A Newsletter for Emergency Managers & Storm Spotters
Summer Edition, 1998
by Jonathan Blaes, Ken LaPenta and Warren Snyder
For the third time in the past four years major
tornadoes struck eastern New York and western New
England. On May 29, 1995 (Memorial Day) an F2
tornado raked Columbia County in New York with an
F3 tornado in Berkshire County in Massachusetts. On
July 3, 1997 several tornadoes (F1 and F2) struck the
same areas of New York and Massachusetts. Less than
a year later, on May 31, 1998, tornadoes again
devastated parts of the region. The worst, an F3,
struck southeastern Saratoga County. In all 68 people
were injured but there were no fatalities. There were
tens of millions of dollars in damage to homes,
businesses and forests. Power was out to over 130,000
customers at the storm's peak, while 12,000 were
without power for over three days.
During the morning of May 31, 1998 a warm
front moved northeast across the region. The air
rapidly destabilized during the afternoon as a cold front
pressed south toward the region. Lines of severe
thunderstorms formed and moved rapidly east across
New York and western New England at speeds of over
50 mph. Several storms became tornadic. The longest
lived tornadic thunderstorm produced a series of
tornadoes starting with an F3 in Stillwater and
Mechanicville in Saratoga County. The F2 tornado
then skipped east into Schaghticoke and Hoosic Falls in
Rensselear County, and eventually into Bennington
County, Vermont. Other tornadoes occurred in East
Schodack and Nassau in southern Rensselaer County
(F2), in Albany County near the International Airport,
and south of New Preston in Litchfield County
The tornadoes of May 31, 1998 were produced
by supercells along a squall line in a highly sheared
environment. Straight line wind damage occurred in
most counties of Albany's County Warning Area.
There were numerous reports of large hail. Cloud to
ground lightning rates over the region reached an
unprecedented 15,000 strokes per hour.
National Weather Service (NWS) warnings
and advance notice of severe weather potential were
recognized by the media and New York Governor
George Pataki as playing a major role in preventing
deaths. NWS forecasts began highlighting the severe
weather potential as early as Saturday afternoon. The
potential for tornadoes was highlighted early Sunday
morning in Special Weather Statements and the first
Tornado Watch was issued shortly after 800 am.
During the event a total of 48 county warnings were
issued by NWSFO Albany, (the most ever for a single
event) with damage occurring in 45 warned areas.
The warning for the Stillwater-Mechanicville tornado
in Saratoga county had a lead time of 42 minutes.
Average lead time for all warnings was 22 minutes.
Local media effectively used program break ins and
crawls for the numerous warnings further heightening
public awareness. NWS warnings were relayed via
Emergency Alert System (EAS) and NOAA Weather
Radio. Warnings were also relayed to Emergency
Operations Centers via HAM radio.
On June 1st and 2nd a total of 9 survey teams
from NWSFO Albany traveled across the affected
areas to assess damages. Aerial surveys were
performed with WNYT Television and the New York
State Police. A
by Hugh W. Johnson IV
The spring of 1998 (March-April-May)
followed the same pattern as the winter - warm and
wet. While the departures from normal of both
parameters were not as great as winter, there were
several anomalies that were memorable.
The mean spring temperature was 50.0 degrees
or 3.9 above normal making this the mildest overall
spring since 1991. Precipitation totaled 12.24 inches
or 2.91 above normal.
March came in like a lamb and went out like a
hot tamale. The monthly average temperature was
38.4 degrees or 4.1 above the thirty year mean.
Precipitation for the month was 2.88 inches, only .05
inches below normal. Snowfall for the month was 6.3
inches, versus the normal of 10.6. There were two
brief arctic outbreaks that interrupted the otherwise
mild weather. Strong gusty winds accompanied the
first blast with a peak gust of 41 mph on the 12th. But
the big story in March came at the end with an
exceptional heatwave. Temperatures soared into the
70s and even 80s to close out the month. On March
31st the high at the Albany International Airport
reached 89 degrees, an all-time record high for the
month. The old all-time record high had been 86 set
back in 1986.
Showers took place 10 days of April. The
rainfall was not evenly distributed with nearly a week
of no rain during mid month. However, the rain fell
heavily enough during the showers to bring the
monthly total to 3.49 inches, one half an inch above
normal. There was one thunderstorm noted on the 1st
day of the month. Temperatures averaged 48.8
degrees, 2.4 higher than normal. The temperature
anomaly this month was mainly due to very mild
overnight lows, as only six days saw temperatures fall
to or below freezing at the Albany International
Airport. Also, no snow whatsoever was measured
during the month, the first snowless April since 1991.
The snowfall total for the 1997-98 season
remained at 52.3 inches, more than 10 below the thirty
year mean of 62.8 inches.
For the seventh consecutive month, May was
warmer than normal. The first 10 days saw readings
stay at or higher than 50 degrees due to cloud cover.
The monthly average was 62.8 or 5.2 degrees above
normal. The majority of the month's 5.87 inches of
rain came the first 11 days of the month. In fact rain fell
10 out of the first 11 days, with some of it heavy
enough to produce localized flooding of streams and
even some rivers. Then, the rain suddenly stopped. For
the next 17 days the weather turned sunny, warm and
dry with only .09 inches of rain officially measured
during this time frame. By month's end, severe weather
which had been plaguing the southeast earlier in the
spring, roared into Eastern New York and Western
New England. A line of thunderstorms brought
significant wind damage to the region on the 29th.
However, it would only be a warmup to what followed
on the 31st. The 31st was definitely the wettest and
wildest day of Spring at the Albany Airport, with the
second highest wind gust ever officially recorded there
- 82 MPH, along with 1.67 inches of thunderstorm rain.
by John S. Quinlan
Staff at NWSFO Albany, NY trained over 400
hundred SKYWARN Spotters during the months of
April, May and June of 1998. By offering SKYWARN
Spotter Training Sessions for the 19 counties in our
CWA, we were able to continue our outreach program
to one of our most valuable resources.
Between April 8, 1998 and June 11, 1998
NWSFO Albany, NY staff (Dick Westergard, John
Quinlan, Hugh Johnson IV, and Jonathan Blaes)
conducted 19 SKYWARN Spotter Training Sessions
(joint sessions were held for Columbia and Greene
Counties, Fulton and Montgomery Counties and
Warren and Washington Counties) with a total
attendance of 487 spotters.
The following table lists the SKYWARN
Spotter Training Sessions which were held during
Spring 1998 and the staff member(s) who conducted
1998 SKYWARN SPOTTER TRAINING SESSIONS
DATE COUNTY LOCATION CITY STAFF
4/08/98 Herkimer BOCES East Herkimer John Q.
4/09/98 Washington County EMO Fort Edward John Q.
4/11/98 Dutchess Fire Hous East Fishkill Dick W.
4/14/98 Windham Chapel Brattleboro Hugh J. IV
4/15/98 Bennington Library Bennington Jonathan B.
4/18/98 Albany CESTM #1 Albany Hugh J. IV
4/21/98 Schoharie County EMO Schoharie Jonathan B.
4/25/98 Albany CESTM #2 Albany Hugh J. IV
4/27/98 Berkshire County EMO Pittsfield DickW. JohnQ.
4/28/98 Ulster CHE&G Kingston John Q.
4/29/98 Montgomery Fire Trng. Fonda Dick W..
5/04/98 Hamilton Town Hall Indian Lake John Q.
5/05/98 Litchfield City Hall Torrington Dick W.
5/09/98 Albany CESTM #3 Albany John Q.
5/11/98 Albany CESTM #4 Albany Dick W.
5/13/98 Albany CESTM #5 Albany John Q.
5/14/98 Berkshire Fire House Gt. Barrington John Q.
5/18/98 Columbia School Hudson Dick W.
6/11/98 Ulster NYCDEP Shokan John Q.
Remember, if you observe any of the following
weather conditions, please relay by the quickest means
possible (either 800 #, amateur radio or NYSPIN
LSR) to NWSFO Albany, NY:
1. Tornadoes / Water Spouts / Funnel Clouds / Wall
Clouds (Rotating or Non-Rotating).
2. Damaging Winds - Downed Trees, Large Limbs
and Power Lines as well as Structural Damage
3. Hail - Any Size (Do not report hail as marble-size,
best to measure the diameter with a ruler).
4. Lightning - Causing Property Damage / Personal
Injury or Death (Otherwise do not report)
5. Flooding - Bankfull or Near Bankfull Streams and
Rivers (Also report any Urban Flooding).
6. Measured Rainfall - Report When 1.5 Inches or
More Falls in a 4-Hour Period or Less.
by Bob Kilpatrick
Floods on the Rivers of upstate New York and
Western New England are a year-round fact of life.
Admittedly, it takes much more rain to cause flooding
in the summer time. But muggy Summer Air Masses
also can make lots of rain!! Consider the following
floods that have taken place in summertime:
- Hurricane Agnes in June 1972.
- The Grafton VT floods of June 1996.
- Floods in northern Vermont in 1996.
- Hurricanes Connie and Dianne in August 1955.
Hurricanes Belle and Chantel in August 1976.
Special Summer Needs to be aware of:
- Summer Storms are often unpredictable: We
forecast when thunderstorms are expected to
happen, and if we expect them to have heavy
downpours or damaging winds. But we can't
tell far ahead of time just where until we start
tracking them on radar.
- Summer Rainfall is uneven: Heavy rains falling
in an upstream area can cause flooding to
develop quickly even though little (or no) rain
has fallen where you are.
- Summer has special flood hazards - some
camps and parks are in flood plain areas -
some people try to "ride" the flood-swollen
rivers in rafts, inner tubes, or kayaks.
- Key emergency personnel may be unavailable
because they are away on vacation.
- Communication Facilities get damaged by
lightning or strong winds.
by Dick Westergard
May 20 marked the one year anniversary of
our move to the new office. Several of you visited us
during our May 2 open house. We hope you enjoyed
your visit - we did!
If you live in Berkshire County Massachusetts
or Litchfield County Connecticut you should now only
be getting mailings from the Albany office. Glenn
Field, my counterpart in the Taunton, MA office and
I have done some cross checking, and he has removed
the names of spotters in the Albany County Warning
Area from his mailing lists.
Check the mailing label on this issue of
StormBuster. It contains the date of your last training.
If that date is more than 2 years ago, you should plan
to attend another training session soon. Once that
date is more than 5 years in the past, your name will be
purged from our database.
If you attended a training session this Spring,
you should have a new spotter ID by the time you
receive this issue of StormBuster.
Please note: While we appreciate all reports of
damage from severe storms, we ask that SkyWarn
Spotters NOT go into disaster areas which have been
sealed off by law enforcement. The victims and
emergency crews need to begin the cleanup without
unnecessary interruptions. In any case, disasters of
that magnitude generally warrant investigation by a
Weather Service storm survey team.
Are you a camera buff? The National Weather
Service in Albany is continually seeking pictures or
video of severe storms in our region. We are
interested in large hail, downbursts, wall clouds, funnel
clouds and tornadoes. We would use the pictures
and/or video in our spotter training, and possibly in
severe weather research projects.
StormBuster is a publication for
Emergency Management Officials and Skywarn
Spotters in the National Weather Service Forecast
Office Albany's County Warning Area.
They Make StormBuster Happen!
Hugh W. Johnson IV.
Address comments to:
C/O NWS Albany NY
251 Fuller Road
CESTM Suite B-300
Albany, NY 12203
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