November 27, 2014

Meteorologist: severe thunderstorms can be as damaging as tornadoes

National Weather Service officials have been holding training sessions this month for “spotters” who are on the look-out for tornado touch-downs and other severe weather. Todd Heitkamp, a National Weather Service meterologist, suggests the storm chasing should be left to the folks who’ve gone through that training.

“When we issue a warning, we want people to take action based upon that warning,” Heitkamp says. “We don’t want them to go outside looking for it. However, if you do go outside, which we know most people will generally do, we need them to make sure that you realize that you may not be able to see that tornado right away, but if your gut is telling you that you are in danger — and there is common sense involved here — and if you feel that sense of urgency, listen to that instinct, and get to your place of safety as soon as possible.”

According to Heitkamp, people are much more likely to seek shelter when a tornado warning has been issued than when a severe thunderstorm warning’s issued. However, Heitkamp says some severe thunderstorms contain strong, straight-line winds that can do just as much damage as a tornado.

“I don’t care if the wind is rotating or if it’s going straight — if it’s moving 100-150 miles an hour, it is still severe,” Heitkamp says, “and you need to take action, based on that wind speed.”

Heitkamp works at the National Weather Service office in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which issues warnings and watches for 11 counties in the northwest quadrant of the state, including the cities of Spencer, Storm Lake and Sioux City.

By Dennis Morrice, KLEM, Le Mars