A thunderstorm outbreak isn't something that typically goes unnoticed in a forecast. The big questions to meteorologists is normally "do these storms have the potential to become severe?" That is what the Storm Prediction Center hopes to answer, hours before storms fire up.
Located in Norman, Oklahoma, the Storm Prediction Center -- also, simply known as the SPC -- is the one stop shop for issuing severe thunderstorm watches and tornado watches in the United States. The watch that you see displayed, from time to time, at the top of your TV screen, is issued by meteorologists hundreds of miles away from the Brazos Valley.
Much like the National Hurricane Center being the official forecasters for tropical weather, the Storm Prediction Center is the sole voice in severe weather watches so to minimize confusion. When dealing with chaotic situations, like severe weather, the clearer the message is, the better chance residents in the path of a storm will have to prepare for potential hazards.
Greg Carbin has been with the Storm Prediction Center for 20 years. He says that when they "diagnose the atmosphere, they're looking for ingredients that go into producing severe storms: Moisture, instability, lift, and shear." It is how those aspects of the atmosphere interact and behave that let meteorologists know if a severe weather outbreak could occur.
Jeremy Grams, also a Meteorologist with the SPC, says that they issue watch areas because the "most important thing we do is try to protect life and property and to get the forecast out before severe weather occurs." At the same time, the message is stressed that if you don't know where you live -- city and county -- or what you live near, the message could fall short. According to Carbin, " if the public isn't willing to receive or interpret [the message], it goes to not. We need the public as a partner and they need to learn about severe weather ."
Many times watches are issued and weather will blow through quickly. Others, it can turn a normal day into a nightmare. Its living up to their goal that keeps the meteorologists at the SPC looking over the atmosphere day after day.