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NWS Paducah Meteorologist Discusses Fall/Winter Weather, How To Stay Safe And How To Help

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Matt Markgraf
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WKMS
Rick Shanklin of the National Weather Service in Paducah visits a studio at WKMS.

The fall season is underway and winter will be here before we know it. To get a glimpse of what to expect, and how to best prepare, Matt Markgraf speaks with National Weather Service Paducah meteorologist Rick Shanklin on Sounds Good. They also discuss climate change, hurricanes and how citizens can help the National Weather Service.

Fall/Winter Weather Preview  

A question on the minds of many this time of year is what does the fall weather season have in store and what will winter be like? Shanklin said the fall season will see more precipitation over the next two to four weeks. Temperatures in mid to late October had been averaging below normal. Shanklin said we’ll see a trend developing where we’ll start going above normal in early to mid-November and said it may hold heading into the winter season.

Prepare For Winter

In preparation for winter weather, Shanklin said to recall the things that were needed in the 2009 ice storm, such as water, non-perishable food, backup means of heat, medication, extra fuel, cash set aside and pet food.

“Always stay on top of the forecast. Especially if you hear about the possibility of snow or ice or something in the forecast a few days down the road. Pay careful attention to that forecast and to the extent you can alter your travel plans,” Shanklin said.

Winter Storm Warnings

As for winter storm warnings, he said the west Kentucky region has the risk of both conventional winter weather (snow, ice sleet) but also severe weather and severe thunderstorms that produce damaging winds, large hail and tornadoes.

“And actually, the tornado threat - when we get severe thunderstorms - is greater in the winter time than it is other times of the year because the wind fields in the atmosphere are stronger on average,” he said. (Here are some maps of tornado averages by season.)

Shanklin said there are more fatalities and injuries from tornadoes from November through March than from March through October each year for this reason.

Also, the region sees more nighttime tornadoes than elsewhere in the country. Shanklin said, statistically, people are 2.5 times more likely to die in a tornado overnight than during the daytime- particularly between midnight and 6 a.m.

Climate Change

On the regional impact of climate change, Shanklin said the region has seen an increase in the frequency of stronger tornadoes in the last 15 to 20 years. He said, however, the database wasn’t kept as thoroughly at the end of the past century. “But generally, for the stronger tornadoes, it was pretty sound.”

Hurricanes

When hurricanes pop up on the radar, the NWS Paducah office will occasionally send staff to offices directly impacted. He said for Hurricane Florence, two forecasters went to Jackson, Kentucky, to assist, due to Charleston, West Virginia’s proximity to the path of hurricane remnants. The team provided services for the Appalachian region.

If weather affects the Paducah area, he said efforts ramp up locally. He noted instances over the years of major impacts of heavy rain and flooding and said even winds can be strong - for instance, in September 2007: where wind gusts were above 70 miles per hour. He said such strong winds are rare, but can happen.

How To Help

Citizens can help the National Weather Service in various ways. When it comes to issuing watches and warnings, storm spotters serve as “the eyes and the ears of the National Weather Service.” Anyone can be a storm spotter, Shanklin said, if one has an interest in weather and serving the community. The process involves attending a course. Those listings can be found on the NWS Paducah website.

Also, the NWS hosts general workshops, including one on Saturday.

Becoming a CoCoRaHS volunteer is another way to help. Shanklin said this involves taking rainfall measurements with a rain gauge and requires some minimal training.

Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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