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July-August 2018

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From the Editor

Weatherwise's motto is “The Power, the Beauty, the Excitement.” A lot of our features focus on the beauty and excitement of the weather—whether it's exploring the spectacular weather in our 50 states, discussing record-breaking weather events, or simple sharing our awe at the natural world. But we should not forget that much of what makes the weather beautiful and exciting is its raw power. And that raw power can sometimes be deadly. This issue of Weatherwise takes a look at some topics where weather—particularly wind—can be deadly and what we can do to keep ourselves and others safe when faced with danger.

In “The Night the NWS Used a Wrench as a Hammer,” Mike Branom tells the story of how in August 2004 the NWS office in Melbourne, Florida, made the unprecedented decision to issue a tornado warning to areas in the path of Hurricane Charley, despite the fact that no tornadoes were expected to hit the area. The unorthodox move was meant to grab residents' attention and warn them to take shelter from what were expected to be damaging straight-line winds in the triple digits. The innovative idea worked, saving numerous lives that day. Moreover, the concept behind that warning now lives on in the form of Extreme Wind Warning, or EWW, which is issued when surface, non-tornado winds of 115 mph or greater are expected within an hour.

Wildfire fighters, who battle blazes out in the wood and grassland areas of our nation, are no stranger to the dangers posed by strong winds, though it takes far less than hurricane-force gales to prove deadly in their case. Strong winds and low humidity can fan the flames of a wildfire to dangerous heights in the blink of an eye, so firefighters need to stay up to date on the latest weather data to maintain a safe distance from the flames as they work to extinguish the blaze. This is where the NWS incident meteorologist teams come in, working with fire behavior experts to help predict how a fire will move during the fighting efforts. In “Weather Forecasters Help Keep Wildfire Fighters Safe,” Jack Williams takes us inside the world of the iMet team and sees how their work can help ensure the safety of the brave men and women on the front lines of wildfires.

Wind can also prove deadly for those risking their lives to rescue others at high altitude. In “Dragons in the Sky: The Story of HAATS, the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site,” Ed Darack gives us an inside view on what it takes for helicopter pilots to learn to navigate the dangers of wind gusts and other challenges when flying in the thin air at high altitude. One wind gust can push a helicopter into a crash, and the expertise these pilots gain at HAATS helps ensure they keep everyone safe in high-risk situations.

Finally, Jan Null has spent years providing expert testimony in cases involving pediatric vehicular heatstroke, when the consequences of leaving a small child alone in a hot car are tragic. Covering a topic that can be upsetting but is of utmost importance, “The Tragedy of Pediatric Vehicular Heatstroke” shows us how PVH can happen even on a cool day, but is also entirely preventable if certain safety precautions are taken.

While the topics covered in this issue of Weatherwise are not as lighthearted as some others we discuss on these pages, they are no less real and important, and they show how crucial it is for us to respect the power of weather.

A view of the spreading flames in the wind from the Canyon Fire 2 wildfire in Anaheim Hills and the City of Orange, California.

A view of the spreading flames in the wind from the Canyon Fire 2 wildfire in Anaheim Hills and the City of Orange, California.

 

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