SEVERE WEATHER AWARENESS WEEK: What classifies a storm as ‘severe’?

Digital Weather Specials

(WFXR) – With the change of the seasons and warmer temperatures, comes increasing storm chances and the threat of severe weather. Some storms are stronger than others and not all storms become severe. Here’s a look at what it takes for a storm to be classified as severe.

A thunderstorm is considered severe when it produces one or more of the following: a tornado, wind gusts of 58 mph or higher, or hail of at least an inch in diameter.

When the forecast calls for conditions favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms, a Severe Thunderstorm Watch is issued. This is often hours in advance.

A Severe Thunderstorm Warning indicates a threat to life and property and those within the path of the storm should find shelter immediately. The warning covers a more specific and localized area dependent upon the movement of the storm.

While hail does not often get the same attention as tornadoes or straight-line winds, it can be damaging to property such as cars and homes. Hail can also damage an entire crop in one storm, creating a huge financial loss for farmers.

Hail begins as rain or a water droplet within the storm cloud being carried upwards by strong updrafts higher into the cloud to where temperatures are below freezing. The water droplet freezes and then falls back down through the cloud with the downdraft. If it is light enough to be picked up again by the updraft and carried to the top of the cloud, another layer of ice will form. This process is repeated until the hailstone is heavy enough to withstand the upward pull of the updraft. The hailstone, then, falls out of the cloud and to the ground. Depending on its size, the hailstone can fall at speeds close to 100 mph!

The largest hailstone on record in the United States fell in Vivian, SD in 2010. It was 8″ in diameter, which is roughly the size of a volleyball.

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