Concert-Goers: Sitting Ducks. In light of the tragic turn of events at the Indiana State Fair Saturday evening (straight-line winds estimated at 70 mph), the result of a "gust front", a sudden surge of rain/hail-cooled air out in advance of the heavy rain and hail. A severe storm watch was posted; anecdotal evidence that a local radio station provided a 4-5 minute warning (still researching whether the local NWS had a warning for this event - I can't believe there wasn't sufficient warning). But the truth: if you're at a fair, or concert, any outdoor venue, there is heightened risk when severe storms roll thru. You don't have to be surprised - there are some really good apps for smartphones available (a few are free) that can give you the weather intelligence you need to protect your family and yourself. I know I look like a weather geek (enthusiast!) when I'm checking my iPhone - but at least I won't get caught in a severe storm. In addition to "pull" features (being able to see the radar and which counties around you are under warnings) a few of these apps (like "My-Cast") have push alert capabilities - the app will send you an SMS message if/when a warning is issued for a favorite location - or - your current GPS location. That's powerful protection and peace of mind. Consider downloading a few apps for your phone - you'll be glad you did. (photo above courtesy of the L.A. Times, which has an update on the disaster at the Indiana State Fair here).
1). Take a portable NOAA Weather Radio. The First Alert portable NOAA Weather Radio above costs a whopping $31, and it could save your life .With a little digging you can find portable, hand-held NOAA Weather Radios that should work in rural areas, even the North Woods. Here's a good list of other portable options, thanks to Google. It's true that signal reception can be a problem, but I always camp with a portable NOAA Weather Radio. I may be a weather geek, but I want to live to tell my grandkids about my camping adventures!
2). Situational Awareness. Any good camper or outdoor enthusiast can read the sky and (on some level) know if a severe storm is brewing. High humidity, a southeast breeze, building clouds are all tip-offs that storms may be brewing. Wherever you are, hiking, camping, enjoying the outdoors, always have an "escape route" in the back of your mind. Where could you seek shelter if skies turn threatening? Under a rocky overhang, a nearby store or lodge? Any kind of building will offer some level of safety - much better than being caught outdoors. With a little planning and a Boy Scout "be prepared" mindset you can lower the risk of disaster by thinking and planning ahead.
3). Smartphone apps. This is where the real revolution is taking place in warning technology. There are some terrific apps out there for getting the time-sensitive information you need to stay ahead of the storm. They cost a few bucks, but think of it as another form of life insurance. My company, WeatherNation, offers warning solutions for major corporations, but there are some great options (that aren't in any way related to my business) that can be personalized for the locations you care about, even your real-time GPS location. They're worth every penny:
a). RadarScope. Price: $9.99 (and worth every penny). You'll agree the first time it saves your butt. In my humble opinion this is still the best pure-play radar app. It works anywhere in the USA (you can get a data signal - which can be problematic for parts of the western USA away from cell towers). Click on any NWS Doppler site and see high resolution Doppler radar, an animated loop, hail detection, velocity fields (to see if a storm is rotating and capable of generating a tornado), even storm rainfall estimates - great for determining the risk of flash flooding, which can be VERY important if you've just pitched a tent next to a babbling brook, which might be tranformed into a raging, muddy torrent if 6" of rain falls 20 miles up the road. More details from RadarScope:
"RadarScope is a specialized display utility for weather enthusiasts and meteorologists that allows you view NEXRAD Level 3 radar data along with our most requested new feature, Tornado, Severe Thunderstorm, and Flash Flood Warnings issued by the National Weather Service. It can display the latest reflectivity, velocity, and other products from any NEXRAD radar site in the United States, Guam and Puerto Rico. These aren't smoothed PNG or GIF images, this is real Level 3 radar data rendered in its original radial format for a high level of detail.
This version *now includes* support for Hawaii, Alaska, and Guam!
Whether you are scanning reflectivity for a mesocyclone's tell-tale hook echo, trying to pinpoint the landfall of a hurricane's eye wall, or looking for small features like velocity couplets in the storm relative radial velocity product, only RadarScope gives you the power to view true radial NEXRAD weather radar on your iPhone or iPod touch.
When there are any Tornado Warnings (outlined in RED), Severe Thunderstorm Warnings (YELLOW polygons), or Flash Flood Warnings (GREEN polygons) in effect throughout the US, tap the warning button in the top right corner to browse the list of current warnings, view the details, and even zoom to the selected warning on the map".
b). My-Cast. Price: $2.99 (no, I don't get a commission). My last company (Digital Cyclone) was sold to Garmin, and they have what I still consider to be the best warning app on the planet. I'm a little biased, yes, but I've tested scores of weather apps and I still think My-Cast Weather Radar, created by Digital Cyclone, is the best overall app for getting storm warnings. You can even set it up to give you "lightning alerts" (if lightning strikes within 20 miles of your location you get an SMS alert, telling you precisely how far away it was, and what direction the strike was). More details:
"The award-winning My-Cast app delivers comprehensive yet intuitive weather information specifically for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Un-cluttered base maps display animated radar, clouds and StormWatch severe weather alerts allowing effortless interpretation of how the weather affects your day. As you check out the current weather, you may see drifting clouds or falling rain as My-Cast's distinctive weather themes come to life. Whether you are interested in weather for today, tomorrow or next week, My-Cast has you covered. When severe weather strikes, My-Cast transmits the latest alerts direct from the National Weather Service.
• Real-time, animated radar
• Weather Map with conditions, temperatures, dew points, wind direction and wind speed overlays
• Animated Visible and Infrared Clouds
• Interactive StormWatch map with National Weather Service alerts
• Complete severe weather warnings, watches, and advisory alert text
• 7-day forecast with high/low temperatures and chance of precipitation
• Hourly forecast with temps, wind speed/direction and chance of precipitation
• Forecast graph including past, present and forecast wind, dew point, temperature, and sky conditions
• Save your favorite and recently viewed locations for anywhere in the U.S.
• Shake for live data refresh
• One-button push for GPS positioning
• No ads!"
c). Weather Radio. Price: $1. This is another app that sends out real-time warnings, only this one follows the SMS warning with a real-time stream from the local NWS office, so you can hear the latest warnings in audio form, providing another welcome level of detail. More details on Weather Radio:
"Listen to over 170 scanner radio stations providing access to NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR) broadcasts. NWR is a nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather information. NWR broadcasts official Weather Service warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Weather Radio comes with Twitter & Facebook support: tell your friends what station you're listening to, "live", without stopping your audio to invoke an external Twitter or Facebook client! Weather Radio allows users to select from NWR audio streams by State-City, or add your favorite stream."
* all 3 apps are available on iTunes. Some of these may be available for Android and Blackberry as well. It's well worth your time to look into this and download these onto your phone, set up your favorite locations (home, work, cabin, beach, etc) and see how they can give you the information you need to make smarter decisions, and keep your family out of storm-related trouble.