Although this blog was intended to be somewhere for me to talk about happy, joyful things in my life, I have others issues to discuss today.
As most of you know, yesterday’s tornado outbreak across the southeast U.S. was devastating. As of 11:15 am this morning, the current fatality count associated with the outbreak is 231. I believe that I can speak for the rest of the weather community when I say that I didn’t think it was possible for a tornado outbreak to be this deadly anymore. The Storm Prediction Center (located just across the hall from my office) issued moderate and high risk outlooks for severe thunderstorms and specifically long-track, damaging tornadoes days in advance of the outbreak. Local National Weather Service offices had weather briefings and discussions on their websites about the potential for a deadly outbreak days in advance. TV meteorologists did an amazing job of getting the word about the outbreak potential. Yesterday morning, the Storm Prediction Center began issuing Particularly Dangerous Situation (PDS) tornado watches across Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia. These watches are issued only in the most dangerous storm set-ups. Once the storms began form, the weather service offices issued stronly-worded tornado warnings and TV meteorologists stayed on-air for hours and hours telling people to take shelter and where would be affected. They even had live video tornadoes hitting communities, including the video of the mile-wide wedge tornado headed right for Birmingham, Alabama.
With all of these precautions taken, and all of the advanced warning, how did over 200 people die from these tornadoes? There’s a lot of talk around the National Weather Center this morning about what could have been done to prevent the deaths. The confusing part is that the system of issuing watches and warnings worked perfectly. Strongly worded watches were issued hours in advance and, to my knowledge, all of the tornadic storms were associated with tornado warnings. Somewhere along the line, however, people still did not think they needed to take proper precautions. How do we get the message across to people most effectively? What do we need to change? The fact that so many people died in a tornado outbreak in 2011 is just unacceptable.