Storm Prediction Center adds new risk categories to severe weather forecasts

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WEST MICHIGAN -- Spring showers may be a welcome relief from the snow of winter, but springtime also signals the start of severe weather season in West Michigan. With the first thunderstorms of spring in the forecast, new phrases from the National Weather Service will be echoed in severe weather talks.

The Storm Prediction Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is the governing body of weather for the United States. The SPC determines the outlook for severe weather, basically the storm forecast over a few days. They also put the risks associated with storms into categories. The SPC recently added marginal and enhanced to the list.

“A marginal risk, which is the first new category is basically an average ordinary thunderstorm day for us here in lower Michigan" explains Jim Maczko warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service of Grand Rapids, "But that each of those thunderstorms will have the potential to produce some damaging winds and maybe large hail. we’re not expecting a big outbreak in that case.”

Maczko adds, “Enhanced risk for us is we’re going to have quite a bit of severe weather. We’re going to get a tornado watch or severe thunderstorm watch. We’re going to have a lot of tornado warnings or severe thunderstorm warnings. And every storm that day, on an enhanced risk day can produce severe weather that can harm you or your family if you are not in your shelter.”

Marginal and enhanced risk storms are part of typical severe weather days in West Michigan. Brief tornadoes are possible on marginal and enhanced risk storm days. The more likely issues on those days will be damaging winds and hail.

The time to watch for these storms is now through mid-July.  When temperatures start to rise dramatically that is when the threat for severe weather increases. And with thunderstorms come the risk for tornadoes. West Michigan will typically see tornadoes every year, but something has been missing.

“We haven’t seen large tornadoes like what is common in Oklahoma through Alabama in 40 years now so we are long overdue for a large, destructive tornado in lower Michigan," says Maczko.

There is very little to do to prepare a home for the dangers of severe weather. But making sure there is a plan in place to find shelter during severe weather and checking the forecast daily will help protect people during times of dangerous weather.  Adding a weather radio to a home will also alert people to severe weather headed for the direction of the home.

Every thunderstorm carries the risk of lightning strikes with it. A good rule of thumb to remember is "when the thunder roars, go indoors."

SPC Classification System

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