Don’t Mess With the Weather

Not From Here? Then don’t mess with the weather

By Jacqueline Koch

Hurricane Isaac 2012

The holidays are fast approaching and you can count on the weather forecaster predicting nasty storms in various parts of the country. As for the Pacific Northwest, if you are new to the region, just visiting, or even if you live here—but you are just a tad bullheaded—this blog is for you.

Here’s where I’m coming from: I’m a Seattleite who recently left our west-of-the-mountains, rain-rinsed town seeking sun in Texas.

I bet you can’t guess what happened? It poured of course. And poured. As luck would have it, Hurricane Patricia, a Category 5 super-storm was preparing to wallop the west coast of Mexico and spread precipitation across Texas—far, wide and deep.

Regardless of the weather, I had a plan to drive from Dallas to Austin and I was sticking to it. After all, it was just rain. Coming from Seattle, we know rain. In the Pacific Northwest, while we don’t have hurricanes, rain has made us famous. We have marathons of precipitation: steady rain, showers and downpours, mixed with drizzle and spittle. This goes on six to nine long, dark months at a stretch—and as we all know too well—with very few sunbreaks in between. We endure our protracted, wet winters, buffeted between the alternating whims of El Niño or La Niña. Yet, we Gortex up, get out, and greet the Pineapple Express. Hello atmospheric river, go ahead, let it rain, we’ll carry on.

Not so in Texas. Hurricane Patricia quickly washed away my provincial understanding extreme weather. In DalIas I discovered that weather systems are capable of brewing up big-time disaster in no time. Take the “super cell”: a severe thunderstorm said to “feature” rotating winds that may result in hail—the size of crocket balls, or, God forbid the “T”-word: a tornado. On radar maps a super cell will appear in frightfully bright red areas indicating heaviest rainfall and labeled “frog strangler.” No joke. Go ahead. Google it.

All of this of course can lead to flash flooding, an extremely risky event that brings a torrent of swift moving, high-level rush of water that is littered with deadly debris plowing forward at full speed.

So here’s the take away: Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have our share of extreme weather events too and we need to be aware. Flash floods can happen in our neck of the woods. It’s an especially perilous time now after two years of punishing wildfires and drought leaving hillsides barren and prone to landslides. Inform yourself on the phases of a flash flood. First it’s a warning, next a watch, and then a full-on flash flood emergency. (Spoiler alert! This means it’s actually happening. Look out. Get to high ground. Fast.)

It’s important to remember that wherever you are and planning to travel a considerable distance, weather can lead to chaos, hazardous conditions and life-threatening situations very quickly. At times, you might not have much time. Tune in, stay informed. Check with state and local weather channels and resources like NOAAH— National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—and useful links like WSDOT (www. wsdot.wa.gov).

Let people know where you are going, check in. Make sure your mobile phone is fully charged. Don’t take risks, if it looks iffy, stay put.

Texans like to remind anyone who asks, “Don’t mess with Texas.” I’d take it a step further “Don’t mess with weather” no matter where you are traveling.

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