Saturday, April 19, 2014 · 11:26 p.m.

Five amusing things heard during last week's severe weather coverage

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First, I’m thankful that this recent batch of severe weather was nothing compared to last April’s series of storms. It seemed like we were more prepared overall, and, personally, I know that I paid much closer attention to the weather forecasts as the storms rolled through. The sequence was eerily similar to April’s storms in that they were split up over time. It gave us plenty of time to anticipate, but also time to worry ourselves silly before the storms arrived. My reaction was to focus on as much coverage as I could. I had my laptop running NewsChannel 9’s online coverage, and my television was tuned to Paul Barys on WRCB. We had a NOAA weather radio (thanks NPR pledge drive!) that would chime in occasionally with robotic updates. I wasn’t about to let these storms sneak up on me, and I’m sure many of you felt the same way. During what amounted to about six hours of intense coverage of the storms, I jotted down some of the more amusing moments.  

"If you’re in Apison, it’s too late ..."
The situation for a meteorologist was sticky because one large storm was moving through to the north of the city while another was about to bear down on the Chattanooga city limits. What to cover? Well, most of the stations tried to do both, with often-hilarious results. The storm was moving at about 64 mph at this point (that’s what they told us at least) and was nearing the Collegedale area, specifically, Apison, Tenn. One meteorologist said, “Well, if you’re in Apison it’s too late to take cover. The storm is there.” This must be the type of thing that keeps professional weathermen up at night. If only the people of Apison had known five seconds earlier ...

“This black area here ... I don’t like that.”
No, this wasn’t a comment as the storm passed over Alton Park. This was a comment on the fact that the radar showed a rare black center to one of the storms. I’ve never seen black on the radar before, and it isn’t listed as a radar color, so, yeah, I can understand the concern. However, this article suggests “black” means nothing more than the slight presence of precipitation. I don’t know about you, but I associate the color black with death and ghosts. So, if for some reason it represents anything “slight” on the radar then it’s certainly fooling me. 

There is no safe place in a trailer
As cliché as it sounds, apparently it’s true that being in a manufactured home (a trailer) is possibly the worst place you could be while experiencing a tornado. We also may subscribe more closely to the idea of trailers and tornadoes because it conforms to our beliefs. And what makes for better coverage of a tornado than the classic “what did it sound like?” interview that happens after every touchdown? Trailers are destroyed because they aren’t built to withstand even a small tornado. Knowing this is exactly why our local media stressed that if you are in a trailer you are better off being outside of that trailer during a tornado. And just for fun, here’s a summarized list of all of the tornado fatalities over the past decade, you know, if you’re bored. 

Hail size issue
We saw the footage of the small hailstones that rained (rained?) down the area. WRCB’s Paul Barys was visibly concerned about his car as reports of “larger” hail outside of the studio began coming in. I guess my biggest issue was the varying reports of how big the hail was in certain areas. We heard everything from ping-pong ball and golf ball size hail to scarier baseball size hail. In between, we switched to fruits with grapefruit size hail and then returned back to sports balls with softball size hail. The official NOAA Hail Size Chart is a bit dated, but it gets the point across. Anything above 1 inch in diameter is considered “severe,” so hen egg and teacup size hail can be destructive. The largest hailstone ever found in the United States was 7 inches in diameter, which is bigger than I’d be able to handle, I think.

The camps
In the household where I watched the storms pass through, everyone was decidedly in one of two camps. The first we’ll call the “generally concerned for their lives” camp, which consisted of individuals who were following the forecast to determine if their lives were at stake. The people in this camp were in a constant state of high-tension and dread throughout the length of the storm. They weren’t fun to be around and tended to be real party poopers, often shedding real tears of concern. The second camp was the “damn it all” camp, which encouraged the consumption of alcohol and red meats and surrounding yourself with as much weather technology as possible. I was a member of the “damn it all” camp. We positioned ourselves in a sunroom that faced southeast and watched as the weather moved across Signal Mountain. Paul Barys and David Glenn were the dungeon masters on our six-hour adventure. I even took a nap during the second and third storms. I understood why Paul Barys kept wanting to check the wind shear near the airport. Because it’s cool.

You can contact Sean Phipps via email and Twitter with comments and questions.

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