21 Aug 2014
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The Storm: What Really Happened

A funnel cloud was spotted, but never touched down, according to a meteorologist from the National Weather Service.

The Storm: What Really Happened

The fear of thunderstorms is common among young children, and that fear is usually soothed by a parent who tells their child that everything is going to be just fine. If the storm rolls through at night, the child likely gets a free pass to snuggle in bed with mom and dad, and by morning, all is forgotten.  

And then there was me.

I was the child on the verge of hyperventilation, collecting her most precious things, keeping a close eye on the whereabouts of the pets, and preparing to fly down the basement steps if she had to.

Just the sound of the Emergency Broadcast System -- test or no test -- was enough to set me off.

Meanwhile, my father would be standing on the outside porch going, "Whoa! Cool! Did ya see that!?"

My father and I have a lot of things in common. The love of thunderstorms is not one of them.

My grandmother even got creative in her attempts to calm me down.

"It's just God bowling," she would say.  "When you hear thunder, it's the ball rolling down the alley. When you see lightning, He got a strike!"

Fast forward to Monday, May 23, 2011.

Now at the age of 24 -- on the verge of 25 -- my grandmother's words were silently playing on repeat in my head as I sat in the Walter L. Peters board room at .

At first, I was quietly waiting for the Nazareth School Board meeting to begin. The 7:30 p.m. start time came and went, but for anyone who has ever attended a school board meeting in Nazareth, that's kind of normal.

I got my first inclination that something more was up when Randy Hall, a driver education teacher who sat behind me, received a phone call informing him of the incoming weather.

I immediately pulled up the National Weather Service website, and we both strained to see where the bright, pink blob was in relation to where we were and to where our families were.

Anxiety level is now rising.

My TweetDeck almost immediately began to blow up with urgent weather-related messages.

We soon found out that board members were late because they were listening to a police scanner and monitoring the storm that was headed directly for Nazareth.

Superintendent Victor Lesky, at first, said that if needed, we should all head across the hallway to the gym -- in an orderly fashion, of course.

And then it became official. Tornado warning. Northampton County. Funnel cloud. Storm to be over Nazareth / Belfast by 8:20 p.m.

This is so not a drill! Cue hyperventilation!

And then I got a direct message on Twitter from Tom de Martini, editor of Upper Macungie Patch.

"I'm watching WFMZ. It's heading your way. Get in the gym," he wrote. 

And the editor of Nazareth Patch is officially wigging.

Secretly, of course. I tried hard to not be that person who has an all out panic attack while some 30 other people, who included administrators, parents and students much younger than me, seemed to be as cool as cucumbers.

Shortly after Tom's message, Lesky made an announcement and we all headed to the lowest level of the high school, instead of the gym.

Hall's classroom was just around the corner from the hallway everyone had crowded into, so I followed him and a few of us watched Ed Hanna, the chief meteorologist for WFMZ-TV Channel 69.

Maybe 10 minutes after heading to lower ground, Hanna stated the storm had weakened, the tornado warning was lifted and a severe thunderstorm warning had been put in its place.

And back upstairs we went.

Although the meeting continued business as usual, the weather Monday night was not.

There was misinformation floating around the Twitterverse and across the Web in general about what the clouds did or did not produce.

So I went straight to the source and found out what really happened.

A tornado did not touch down between Nazareth and Bethlehem, as was previously reported, and, in fact, there has been no indication that a single tornado hit ground in Northampton County that night, according to the  National Weather Service (NWS).

Meteorologist Kristin Kline, stationed in Mt. Holly, N.J., said a funnel cloud was spotted over Routes 248 and 33 in Lower Nazareth Township, but the cloud never touched the ground to form an actual tornado.

According to Dictionary.com, a funnel cloud is a rapidly rotating funnel-shaped cloud extending downward from the base of a cumulonimbus cloud, which, if it touches the surface of the earth, is a tornado or waterspout.

Kline said the NWS contacted in Upper Nazareth Township, but nothing the dispatchers said about Lower Nazareth and Northampton County in general indicated that a tornado touched down.

And it was a surprisingly quiet night, according to Roy Seiple, chief of , which covers multiple municipalities including Lower Nazareth. Several trees in Bath were brought down by the wind, he said, but no other notable damage was brought to his officers' attention.

On Nazareth Patch's Facebook page, Brenda Reinert Merkle of Lower Nazareth said high winds sent her outdoor furniture flying, including a chair that landed 25 feet away from its original resting place. She added that a lot of large tree branches had fallen into her backyard.

Over on Twitter, @trifster tweeted at 8:14 p.m. that he was hunkered down in his basement in Upper Nazareth Township. At 8:25 p.m. he tweeted again saying he had emerged from the basement, adding that the northern half of the Eagles Landing development was without power and he could hear fire sirens.

Funnel clouds like the one spotted above Routes 33 and 248 are common, according to Kline.

But although common, she added, funnel clouds and tornado warnings should never be taken lightly.

“A funnel cloud itself doesn’t cause damage or mean you’re in danger,” she said.  “The danger is created when that funnel cloud touches the ground.  It’s not uncommon to get reports of funnel clouds, but tornadoes can form rapidly and folks should seek shelter immediately.”

If you spot a funnel cloud or if your community is under a tornado warning, according to Kline, the following advice should be followed:

  • Drivers should seek shelter if at all possible, and not stay in their vehicles -- “If you’re driving, the safest place to be is in a building. If [the tornado] is strong enough, it can pick up and move cars. If you can’t get to a building, get out of your car and into a ditch where you will be near the lowest part of the ground.”
  • Do not seek shelter under an overpass -- “Being under a bridge pass would not be a safe place.  If a tornado were to hit that structure, it could easily crumble and topple on top of you. And, again, you’re really not protected -- you’re not on sturdy ground or in a building.”
  • Stay away from windows and head to the lowest level of the building you're in -- “You want to be on the lowest level of your home.  If you don’t have a basement, go to the most centrally located room that has the most walls, which is usually a bathroom.  You want to put as many walls as possible between you and the outside world.”

And that, ladies and gentleman, is how the storm really went -- courtesy of my insider view from Nazareth Area High School, social media websites, and, of course, the clouds themselves ... err ... the National Weather Service.

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