When it comes to weather alerts, we’ve all seen the colorful boxes plastered on TV screens, and alerting to our phones, before.
Most people can tell the difference between a Tornado or Severe Thunderstorm Warning, and know what actions to take if they’re under the gun. But when a brand new shade was displayed on Florida Weather maps Sunday afternoon, many folks were probably left scratching their heads.
At 12:25 p.m. ET, the National Weather Service office in Miami issued their first-ever Extreme Wind Warning (EWW) for areas between Naples and Marco Island.
This is an extremely rare type of warning issued by the NWS for the “imminent onset of, or occurring, tropical cyclone-related sustained surface winds, greater than or equal to 100 knots (115 mph).”
Most people have never even heard of the Extreme Wind Warning, although it certainly sounds dire. After all, it’s reserved for the most exceptional of all wind events.
The concept for the warning originally came about in 2004, when Hurricane Charley prompted forecasters in Florida to issue tornado warnings, accounting for eyewall winds greater than 100 miles per hour. Forecasters noted that the only other option, a “High Wind Warning,” didn’t seem to convey the severity of the situation.
In a 2013 email interview, legendary National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist Robert Ricks, known for his prescient “Doomsday Statement” preceding Katrina, detailed the implementation of similar warnings during Katrina:
We had a visiting/deployed meteorologist from WFO Melbourne, FL that actually issued those warnings. He was instrumental with the initial issuance and development of such warnings at his home office in Melbourne during Hurricane Charley in 2004. It was NWS policy to issue ‘eyewall wind warnings’ that are more like hyper tornado warnings when we are dealing with Cat-3 or higher hurricanes. The public reaction to the tornado warnings issued during Katrina is still unknown. For several of these issuances, they were in areas that were heavily evacuated.
The purpose of these particular warnings is for those who may have stayed behind to seek the place of last refuge for a life threatening wind impact.
A team from the National Weather Service created the Extreme Wind Warning in 2006, but it went 10 years before being dusted off for actual use.
Until a month ago, only one had ever been issued in the decade preceding; within four weeks, more than a half-dozen have been rolled out in Texas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and most recently, Florida.
If you find yourself under an Extreme Wind Warning, the actions to take are essentially the same you’d expect if a tornado were heading your way.
“Get under a table or other piece of sturdy furniture,” advised the National Weather Service to residents of Collier County in advance of Irma. “Use mattresses, blankets or pillows to cover your head and body. Remain in place through the passage of these life-threatening conditions.”
The Extreme Wind Warning is as real as it gets.
It’s possible that similar alerts will be hoisted across populous areas of the western Florida Peninsula for Hurricane Irma. If one is issued, heed any and all warnings, and above all — stay safe.