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The Need to Heed Severe Thunderstorm Warnings

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During Monday's line of thunderstorms, the National Weather Service out of Sterling issued numerous Severe Thunderstorm Warnings across the area. The storms brought down trees from Culpeper through D.C, to Annapolis, and down into Southern Maryland. In Montgomery County there was a brief tornado.

While the tornado was weak and very short lived (just a couple of minutes), it did quite a bit of damage.

The storm that spun up this tornado did have a "Severe Thunderstorm Warning," issued for it at 3:18 p.m. until 4 p.m. The warning stretched from Fairfax through D.C., Montgomery, and Prince George's Counties.

This begs the question, is a tornado occurring in a storm that doesn't have a "tornado warning," a mistake? I'd have to say not really, especially when we look at this storm, the tornado it produced, and the damage caused. Consider the warning itself:

The call to action, in the red box, is the same for this severe thunderstorm warning as it would be for a tornado warning. It's especially important in a neighborhood like Four Corners, with so many large trees around. The tornado lasted for just about 2 minutes and was on the ground for a few blocks.

Radar returns from 3:44 and 3:49 show weak rotation, but also show how with one sweep of the radar it can disappear.


The D.C. Metro area is covered by several radar sites including Sterling (The National Weather Service) and the airport terminal radars for Dulles, Reagan National, BWI, and Joint Base Andrews. Often, one of the five sites will pick up tornado signatures, and can sometimes be found after the fact. However these little spin ups can be missed on radar, and often happen so quickly they can't be warned on. This is an important reminder to take severe thunderstorm warnings seriously, just like you would a tornado warning.

In the end, it doesn't matter if the damaging winds come swirling at you at 70 mph or come blowing straight at you at 70 mph. The danger would be the same. Of course, our area isn't immune to strong tornadoes, but fortunately they are fairly rare.


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