not-so-happy chunks

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.

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5 Responses to not-so-happy chunks

  1. lyndseybeth says:

    So, I love that people chase tornadoes for study and knowledge purposes, but when they make shows on TV about these groups of storm chasers, they make them look like awesome super hero dudes that define what it means to be cool. “Let’s get up close to these awesomely destructive monsters! They’re so cool!”… I think it down plays the danger of the situation, and encourages people without brains to want to do the same thing. Maybe they don’t all go chasing, but they do go stand on their porches and watch it coming until it’s almost (or is) too late. The desire to see this thing it, to see the awesome monster of destruction, outweighs the danger of the situation. I know on those shows they say over and over about the dangers, but when you see them cheering and jumping up and down in excitement, it’s hard to feel fear. Plus, there are some reeeaally stupid people in this country, and we’ve seen evidence of that in the many, many amateur videos coming out online. People, who are uneducated in weather (the direction/way the storm moves, etc), are out there WAY too close just to get a video and get hits on youtube.

    Also, I dunno if this is a fact, but I read an interview with someone who lost their house that the local tornado sirens didn’t come on at all. That they woke up to the noise of the tornado ripping through their neighborhood and barely had time to take shelter. There’s two things with this: (1) when I was growing up, if there were threatening storms in the area, my dad would sit up all night on the couch in the living room and doze in and out while watching the local news channel, just to make sure he knew what was going on, and whether or not we needed to go to the shelter (we didn’t have a basement, so we needed time to drive the 1/2 mile to the hospital tunnels, where most of my neighborhood went), so really, these people who didn’t do this were still being irresponsible in my eyes; (2) It’s nothing you all are doing wrong. Maybe it’s just that we need more siren testings, or a quicker siren response. Or make sure that everyone is in ear-shot of the sirens… some neighborhoods in Columbia aren’t. Maybe it’s the fact that when they do the monthly testing, no one does anything about it. At my office, we sit there at our desks and go about our business. The only people who do anything during the testings are school children…and who knows if they even do anymore. We don’t take the sirens seriously. This is the local/state government’s responsibility to make us respect the sirens. Or maybe NOAA can do a national “respect the siren” marketing campaign, and raise awareness.

    Or maybe it all just comes down to the explanation for everything: it takes something going wrong before something is done. It took hundreds of motorcycle deaths before the state of Missouri enforced mandatory helmets. It took a space shuttle blowing up before they spent ample time inspecting the tiles on each shuttle. It took three 737 aircrafts’ roofs peeling off mid-flight for the airline industry to inspect every 737 to find that most had similar issues. It takes a child dying before an unstable/hazardous toy is taken off the market. It’ll take our country becoming more stupid before the government realizes the dangers of cutting educational programs. Maybe it takes hundreds dying before the country re-realizes the dangers of tornadoes.

    sorry. got a little carried away. haha

  2. All great points. The Storm Chasers-esque shows are making people fearless in terms of video-taping tornadoes. It’s insane.

    Through storm chasing over the past few years, Stuart and my respect for tornadoes have definitely increased. As I personal rule, I no longer want to chase on “high risk” days (like yesterday) because its just way too dangerous. Storms are too powerful and move way too fast. Even if you know what you’re doing, you could easily get stuck in a bad road network and get hit. After watching everything take place yesterday the idea of chasing again any time soon leaves a sick taste in my mouth.

    One of my friends lives in Enterprise, AL (2-3 hours south of Birmingham) and she told me that most people down where she lives don’t have basements. No one in the Norman area has basements either. I’m told that the soil structure just doesn’t allow for them in this part of the country. Some people have storm shelters built under their garages, but those typically cost $2000-$3000.

    In terms of tornado sirens going off too late, I blame the counties for that. People knew (or should have known) that yesterday would be a big tornado day and those people in charge of the sirens should have been ready to sound them as soon as they got word of a tornado warning.

    • lyndseybeth says:

      who is in charge of turning them on? I feel like it should be paired up electronically with the local weather station warnings or something. So that as soon as one is issued, it’s automatic… does an actual person, with human error, turn on the sirens?! insane. but yeah, Craig and I were trying to figure out yesterday, is the south and east coast really used to having tornadoes like this throughout history? Or is this just one more evidential effect of global warming?

  3. There is a secondary “tornado alley” or “dixie alley” as its been called by some people that runs right through that Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia region. The outbreaks there usually occur earlier in the tornado season (February-March), but can occur any time. It’s not unusual for the area.

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