More On the Extraordinary Tornadoes of 2011

The Birmingham News did a well-balanced story on my theory that the power failures caused by the line of thunderstorms that moved across Alabama the morning of the 27th played a role on the large death toll from the tornadoes later in the day. I found this paragraph to be interesting:

The Alabama Emergency Management Agency expressed doubts about the deadly impact of that day’s power outages because the potential for particularly nasty weather had been widely publicized throughout the week. “It wasn’t like it shocked all of us,” said Yasamie August, a spokeswoman for the agency.

There is a very big difference between, “severe thunderstorms will likely occur on Wednesday” (spoken by a weathercaster on, say, Tuesday evening) and, “A tornado is headed for your neighborhood! Take cover now!”, particularly when you have been distracted by dealing with an all-day power outage.

There is a second article from yesterday’s Wichita Eagle about the use of sirens in a wake of the National Weather Service’s report on the Joplin tornado. I’m quoted about using sirens only for tornadoes and only in areas actually in the path of the storm. Jim Schmidt, emergency manager for Butler Co., KS, says,

But Schmidt said he understands and endorses the use of tornado sirens when strong winds threaten areas where camping and boating are popular.

Butler County sounds the sirens in El Dorado and next to El Dorado Lake any time confirmed winds of at least 80 mph are moving into the area.

“We can have 40,000 people at the lake,” Schmidt said. “If there are 80-mile-an-hour winds coming and you’re in a camper, it is a whole lot different than if you’re in a nice brick house.”

Jim makes a good point and I agree provided the sirens are only sounded near the lake and that signs are erected at the Lake’s entrances to explain the policy. Elsewhere, I believe it is bad idea to sound sirens for severe thunderstorm warnings.

In the comments to the Eagle’s article a man name Jeff Johnson wrote,

I live in Joplin, a few blocks from the EF-4 destruction when the tornado first started. I had been watching the storm on radar for at least 2 hours, had the TV on as well. I heard the first tornado warning sirens go off, but the rotation was to the north and it would pass to the north of my location and the couplet wasn’t all that impressive. Some of the neighbors had gathered outside and were talking at the time. I wasn’t prepared for what happened after that though. A new cell popped up to the south of the first cell. I caught this on the radar and noticed that it was forming really strong rotation. A meteorologist on TV cut in and circled where the rotation was and it was almost directly over my area. I was able to see that rotation on radar and it was directly west of my area. I decided to look out a west window but couldn’t see much other then the sky being pitch black with a wall cloud in front of it. It looked like night. A few seconds later I heard what sounded like rolling thunder, only it didn’t get quieter, it got louder. Then a few seconds after that, the second tornado sirens sounded and I knew for sure it was a tornado and took shelter in a closet. Looking back on it now, if the tornado had been a few blocks closer, I’m not sure I would be here. I’m getting a tornado shelter later this fall/winter though, that’s for sure.  [emphasis mine]

In the series of tornado education seminars for business that I have been doing since May, I say,

Don’t Believe Your Eyes, Believe the Tornado Warning!

As Mr. Johnson confirms, Doppler radar is a powerful tool and is far superior to the untrained eye. Please take shelter whenever the sirens sound!

Comments are closed.