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MEMA Home > Programs> Communication> News > Severe Weather Awareness Week: The Basics

Severe Weather Awareness Week: The Basics


April 30, 2012


The National Weather Service has declared the week of April 30th through May 4th, 2012 as Severe Weather Awareness Week in New England.

During Severe Weather Awareness week, the National Weather Service encourages the public to become more aware of the threats associated with thunderstorms, so they can act appropriately when severe storms threaten.

Some basic definitions...

New England is in transition from early spring-like weather to a more summer-like weather pattern. With the warmer weather comes an increasing threat of thunderstorms. By definition, every thunderstorm contains lightning and is, therefore, a potentially deadly storm.

In addition, certain thunderstorms present other threats, as well. These threats include high winds, hail, tornadoes, and flash flooding.

Tragically, in Maine and New Hampshire in 2008, two people were killed by lightning, one person was killed by a tornado, and one person drowned in a flash flood.

The National Weather Service uses a Watch and Warning program to alert the public to potentially threatening weather. In the summertime, Watches and Warnings are issued for severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, and flash flooding, and Special Marine Warnings are issued for gusty winds in marine areas. Here are some basic definitions.

A Watch indicates that the atmospheric conditions are favorable for severe weather to develop.

If a Watch has been issued for your area, keep an eye on the sky, and monitor NOAA Weather Radio or your local broadcast media for any possible warnings.

A Warning indicates that severe weather is imminent or is already occurring.

If a Warning has been issued for your area, be prepared to seek a safe shelter if you are in the path of the storm.

Here are some basic definitions of the events for which watches and warnings are issued.

Severe Thunderstorm:

A thunderstorm that produces damaging wind gusts of 58 mph or more, and/or hail 1 inch or greater in diameter.


A violently rotating column of air that extends from the cloud to the ground.

Flash Flood:

Flooding that occurs very rapidly, usually due to very heavy rain from a slow moving thunderstorm.

In addition to these warnings which are issued for land areas, the National Weather Service issues Special Marine Warnings for marine areas, for storms with frequent wind gusts of 34 knots (about 39mph) or greater.

Get the alerts ...

One of the best ways to monitor these conditions is by purchasing an alert-activated NOAA Weather Radio for your home or business. If you are within the broadcast range of a NOAA Weather Radio transmitter, tone activated NOAA Weather Radios can be set to automatically turn on when a severe thunderstorm, tornado, or flash flood warning has been issued by the National Weather Service.

In addition, alert-activated weather radios can be programmed to activate only if the warning has been issued for the county(ies) that you are interested in. For more information on purchasing a NOAA Weather Radio, contact the National Weather Service. NOAA Weather Radios can often be purchased at stores that sell small electronic equipment.

In addition, you can sign up to receive weather alerts by e-mail or text via subscription service from MEMA and

Be safe ...

Finally, if you are caught in a severe thunderstorm or tornado, know what to do to minimize the risk that you or someone with you could be killed or seriously injured from the storm. And, after the storm, be sure to report storm damage to local law enforcement agencies and ask them to relay the information to the National Weather Service.

Severe Weather Awareness Week ...

These messages are presented in partnership with the National Weather Service Forecast Offices in Maine:

  • National Weather Service Gray: covers western and Southern Maine, include York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox, Waldo, Androscoggin, Oxford, Franklin and Kennebec Counties, and central and southern Somerset County.
  • National Weather Service Caribou: covers eastern and Northern Maine, including Aroostook, Penobscot, Washington, Hancock, Piscataquis and northern Somerset County.





Last update: 07/20/10