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Don't blame El Nino for severe storms

By Alecia Sirk

(June 4) Don't blame El Nino.

It's tornado season, pure and simple, according to the National Weather Service.

"During the past week, the severe weather has been caused by the strong jet stream that has been moving across the northern tier of the United States," said Nicole Belk, a NWS meteorologist out of Charleston. The jet stream is made up of the fastest moving winds in the atmosphere and it dictates where high and low pressure areas will go.

The months of April, May and June are typical tornado season, especially for the Harrison County area, Belk said. The season is running above average this year, however.

"West Virginia averages about two tornadoes per year and this year, so far, we've had three tornadoes," she said. Belk said a springtime type jet stream combined with the summer-like temperatures in the area and relatively high humidity have combined to cause the severe weather outbreak.

"It has more than likely not been related to El Nino because, for one, the temperatures in the tropical Pacific are returning to normal, and El Nino usually affects weather in the cool season, fall and winter," Belk said.

It looks like tornado season might see a break in June, according to Belk's extended weather forecast.

"During the next several days, there is a nearly stationary front to our south, near Virginia, and because it will stay south of Clarksburg, conditions will be less favorable for thunderstorms than in previous days," Belk said. There may be little storms, she added, but nothing like what the area has experienced recently.

In June, it looks like the temperature will be above normal and the rainfall will be average -- about 4 inches, she reported.

Unlike West Virginia, in 1998, the nation has been below its average number of tornadoes, but the national total of fatalities is almost double the average.

"The average number of tornado-related deaths each year is 64, and just through May we've had 113 tornado-related deaths," Belk said. There have been no tornado-related deaths so far this year in West Virginia.

"We rank 35 in the continental U.S. and any U.S. territory in tornado related deaths," Belk said. There are 56 areas considered in the statistic. During the years 1950-94, West Virginia had only two tornado-related deaths and 90 injuries.

In property damage, West Virginia ranks 39 out of 56.

A tornado in Harrison County last week resulted in the loss of two homes, one in Upper Lamberts Run and the other on Farnum Road. One woman, Lona Loar, was treated for a cut on the head.

There are things people can do when the National Weather Service issues a tornado watch or warning, Belk said.

"People should take watches and especially the warnings very seriously," she said. "They are not issued lightly, especially due to the rarity of tornadoes in the area."

When a watch is issued, it means conditions are favorable for a tornado to form. Listen to the radio or watch the television for updates, Belk said.

When a warning is issued, take action.

"That means a tornado has been spotted on the ground or our radar has indicated a possible tornado," she said. "We issue those warnings county by county, so that's a relatively small area."

When the warning is issued, she said, get to the lowest spot in your home. If you are in a car or mobile home, get to a solid structure. If that is not possible, get into a ditch.

"Get as low to the ground as you can. A strong tornado can lift and move cars or roll a mobile home over," she said. "The best place for you to be, if there is no strong building nearby, is to get out of the mobile home and go to a low spot in a ditch or somewhere low to the ground."