When someone says “winter weather,” most people think of snow.
But in some areas of the country, particularly the South, winter can be an active time for severe storms and tornadoes. And as we see all the time — like the Alabama and Georgia tornadoes. They don’t even hit during “tornado season”.
In fact, on Dec. 23-24, 2014, 10 tornadoes hit Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia, killing five people and injuring more than 50.
While the chance of tornadoes is significantly lower in the winter than the spring, it’s important to stay prepared for any contingency.
Smartphones and other portable devices have proven to be important tools during spring storm seasons, and they continue to do so all year long. There are plenty of apps available to help during storm season.
One of the most powerful and comprehensive is RadarScope, an app popular with meteorologists. RadarScope is available in a free version, which contains most of the apps features, and a Pro version, which costs $10 per year and provides added forecasting tools.
RadarScope provides a long list of radars, from the standard precipitation to wind velocity radar that can show damaging winds and even rotation that could indicate tornadoes. It includes the new dual polarization radars, new tools that can show possible tornadoes more accurately. With these tools, forecasters can see possible debris balls that could indicate a tornado is on the ground and causing damage.
While RadarScope has powerful tools for forecasters, it’s easy to navigate and can be used by anyone. It also includes weather alerts that will sound if a watch or warning is issued in a chosen area.
WeatherUnderground has another app that can help in a stormy situation. Called Storm, the app is similar to RadarScope, though it lacks some of the radars, such as the dual polarization tools. The Storm app is free, but includes ads. An ad-free subscription is available for $1.99 per year.
This app can show everything from a storm’s track to the lightning it’s producing. It not only has a current radar, it has a future one that can predict where a storm is headed and how intense it will be once it gets there. Storm also can send alerts for favorite locations to the smartphone or tablet whenever a watch or warning is issued for that area.
For those just needing a quick glance at the current conditions, the Wunderground app from Weather Underground can provide that. Some of the information provided includes current temperature, radar, barometric pressure and wind speed, as well as humidity, rain accumulation, visibility and even sunrise and sunset times. The app also provides a forecast and temperature graph for the next five days. Again, the app is free, but an ad-free version costs $1.99 per year.
Finally, check out the area’s local TV station apps, if available. Most television stations have their own news apps, and many have their own weather apps. Some are better than others, but the local apps often can provide everything from timely weather alerts to the ability to stream their live broadcast to see first-hand what’s happening with the weather.
While winter is a slower storm season that other times of the year, it’s by no means absent of severe weather. It’s important to stay vigilant when severe weather is expected. Smartphone apps provide the best weather tools available while on the go. They can help ensure safety during storm season — any time of year.
Melissa L. Jones is a trained storm spotter, photographer and technology review columnist. Her column, “Tech Spotlight,” appears every Monday in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper.
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