"Severe" thunderstorm defined
FROM TODAY'S PRINT EDITIONS:
Glenn Cucina, in Baltimore, says: “I’ve seen a lot of thunderstorms, plenty of which had high winds and heavy rain. But it seems to me we have never heard these storms called ‘severe’ like we are today. Is that a [new] designation?”
A severe thunderstorm is one that produces a tornado, winds of 58 mph, 1-inch hail or structural damage. The term dates at least to the 1960s, but changes in warning strategy in 2007 may be producing more severe storm watches and warnings, according to Greg Corbin, warning coordination meteorologist at the NOAA/NWS Storm Prediction Center, in Norman, Okla.
Rather than issuing warnings for whole counties, he said, the weather service began issuing them for geographical "polygons" along the storm's path. More polygons, more warnings.
Chris Strong, the warning coordination meteorologist at the NWS Baltimore-Washington forecast office in Sterling, Va., said he'd like to see the term changed:
"To be honest, I wish they would change it from 'severe,' which is a term that is widely interpreted, to 'damaging,' which is really what we are warning for ... winds that will cause damage or hail that will cause agricultural damage. It's also a much clearer term."
(SUN PHOTO: Gene Sweeney Jr., June 2009)