I appreciate this posting on the PhillyWeather blog:
- Mike Smith, who runs theMeteorological Musingsblog and wrote a book (currently in my queue to read) called “Warnings” (about the amount of life saving work that’s been done to improve the US warning system for weather) made what I thought was a poignant (but necessary) challenge at one of the talks regarding Joplin about the shortcomings of the warnings issued during that afternoon by the NWS in Springfield. There was much discussion about tornado sirens and how there needs to be standards regarding when they need to be activated, as their usefulness becomes diminished as people are overwarned continuously.
I’m currently working on a project involving the Joplin storm. Blog readers will be learning more about it shortly.
Published by The Kansas City Star, ”Joplin 5:41” is the story of the Joplin tornado in a “coffee table”-style book.
It merges a number of stories into book form with lots of color photos. The single most innovative item in the book is a 360° “fold out” of tornado damage and time-line/geography diagram. It is a great idea but the execution is mediocre.
The writing is a little uneven in places. It is strongest when talking about the hospital and start of the 2011 school year. Its writing about the storm itself and its genesis is weak. That said, I like the book and would recommend it to those that are interested in learning more about this horrible storm.
It is very reasonably priced at $29.95 considering the number of high-resolution color photos.
Rangeline Road is the main commercial street in Joplin. The video below is from a team of storm chasers going south on Rangeline Road, moments before the F-5 tornado wiped out more than one mile (north-south) of the businesses on the road.
Screen capture from video. Green sign is Jo Anne Fabrics. The tornado is in the background but appears to be just a dark gray cloud mass.
Photo of the above shopping center after the tornado.
The video is below. “Can we not break the law?” they ask as they are hung up at a stoplight (that was torn down by the tornado). “Would the Home Depot be a good [shelter]?” The Home Depot was destroyed with multiple fatalities.
The video is below and I recommend you select HD. Video demonstrates — again — the tornado was not recognizable visually as it moved across the city.
Put another way, just about everything you see in the video from :35 to 2:33 was destroyed. When they are stopped at the light (roughly 1:00 to 2:00), they are pointing the camera right at the tornado but it is just a dark gray cloud mass.
From Andrew Revkin at the New York Times. An interesting comment:
A substantial number of fatalities occurred in businesses. According to information obtained from the Joplin emergency manager, 24 fatalities occurred in traditional businesses (e.g., Home Depot, Pizza Hut, Wal-Mart), and 21 and 15 fatalities occurred at Greenbriar Nursing Home and St. John’s Hospital respectively. This is highly unusual; between 1985 and 2010, only 4 percent of tornado fatalities occurred in businesses. Over the decade 2001 to 2010, there were 17 deaths at businesses in the entire U. S. It is unclear if the business death toll represents some type of special vulnerability (did employees fail to take safety precautions?) or a consequence of many businesses like the Home Depot on Range Line Road being totally obliterated, rendering normal safety precautions ineffective. Either way, the fatalities in businesses represent an unusual vulnerability.
After major weather-related disasters, the National Weather Service conducts a “Service Assessment” to understand what can be learned and what can be improved with regard to their forecasts and warnings.
Several of their key findings include (my words in bold, assessment language in italics):
False Alarms of Severe Storms are a Real Problem
It was common in the interviews to hear residents refer to storms always blowing over and missing Joplin, or that there seemed like there was a protective bubble around Joplin, or ―there is rotation all the time, but never in Joplin…
Sounding Sirens for Severe Thunderstorm Warnings Caused Complacency
the perceived frequency of siren activation (false alarms) led an overwhelming number of participants to become desensitized or complacent to this method of warning. Many noted that they hear sirens all the time[sirens] go off for dark clouds, they are bombarded with [sirens] so often that we don‘t pay attention, the sirens have gone off so many times before, sirens are sounded even for thunderstorms, and all sirens mean is there is a little more water in the gutter.
Because People Want to “Confirm the Threat for Themselves” – the Invisible Nature of the Rain-Wrapped Tornado Misled People into Believing the Siren Was Sounding for a Severe Thunderstorm Warning.
While searching for additional information concerning the severe weather threat constitutes ―taking an action,‖ the actions many residents described taking were not the immediate life- saving measures desired with the issuance of a tornado warning. In most cases, these life-saving actions, or the decision to find shelter, were associated with additional extraordinary risk signals. This was generally achieved in different ways, including:
a.Physical observation of the environment (seeing the tornado approach). While significant numbers of people actually did this, the approach was complicated by having a ―rain-wrapped‖ tornado that made the tornado more difficult to recognize until it was very close. There were numerous accounts of people running to shelter in their homes just as the tornado struck, despite significant advance warning of the risk.
The report confirms my recommendations that sirens should only be sounded in extraordinary circumstances (tornado) and then only in the areas directly at risk. The multicounty siren activations in areas like St Louis lead to complacency and the opposite public response from what emergency management would like.
To individuals, take shelter when the warning is issued.Don’t run outside trying to figure out the threat.