Meteorological spring (March 1-May 31) has sprung, at least in the southern U.S. It is moving steadily north now that the equinox is past and the Northern Hemisphere tilts closer to the sun and the atmosphere warms more and more each day. That heating ultimately fuels that most dangerous form of spring weather, tornado outbreaks.

Tornadoes can form anywhere and hit at any time of the day or night, year round and in every state. They usually occur in spring and summer in the late afternoon to evening window of 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., after the sun has done it’s day’s work to heat the atmosphere and the supercells that spawn them have formed. Nighttime tornadoes are particularly deadly because sleeping humans are usually unaware humans.

For mariners who work where tornadoes are more than just an extremely rare event, it’s just one more weather hazard that must be paid close attention to. And that is the point of this column: dealing with the constantly changing and sometimes overwhelming amount of stuff one must try their best to pay attention to. Our mental bandwidth (a.k.a. situational awareness) is variable and always limited. It degrades over time from work stresses and fatigue. That situational degradation, or complete absence of, is often a primary root cause of most accidents and tragedies.

By far the most helpful modern tool that I am aware of to help maintain that all-important situational awareness regarding weather is the SMS push alert, delivered via your mobile phone. Nothing beats its speed and directness. The federal government’s Wireless Emergency Alerts system (WEA) is automatic. If you’ve ever received an Amber Alert you’ve experienced it in action. But it’s limited to only the most extreme circumstances.

To ensure that I have the full weather picture at all times, I subscribe to Storm Shield ( which provides severe weather alerts for your exact location. It provides advisories, watches, and warnings for anything from a blizzard to a sandstorm, high winds to high heat, an overnight freeze or anything else you can imagine. This affordable, feature rich and user-friendly service and app is just as useful in your non-working life, and could even save your life.

Joel Milton works on towing vessels. He can be reached at [email protected].