Tuesday, February 12, 2008


For quite a few years now weather forecasters, skywarn severe weather spotters, storm chasers and emergency management professionals have been pro-active in educating the public and school children to the risks of severe weather.

(Pix: New Disney attraction To Teach Storm Safety)

Initiatives such as recommending and even legislating ( in some States ) mandatory purchase and or installation of severe weather alert radios for some new modular homes and to the general public at large. Initiatives to build better storm shelters, and modular homes are also being discussed. Of course there are some communities and their leaders who think this is unreasonable or cost prohibitive.

However during the recent tornado outbreaks of January and February the loss of life has been extensive. To date the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) has preliminary numbers of reported twisters raging across the United States for the 5 February 2008 event at approximately 103, with associated deaths at approximately 66. This does not include some 250 wind reports and some 124 hail reports, for a total of 477 reports filed with the SPC just for that day.

Many of these death (14) were in mobile homes and with many people caught off guard or at the very last moment without knowledge of the watch or warning. However and not to down play the tragedy of the loss of human life and there is no intent on my part to do so. But all reported deaths so far, were either under a WS- Severe Thunderstorm Watch or a Tornado Watch or Warnings.
There has been much talk and debate on whether or not there was ample time for people to receive the watches and warnings and or whether or not there was even any warnings at all.

The morning of
Super Tuesday, 5 February 2008, NOAA's Storm Prediction Center had issued very early projections . These projections were delivered to all National Weather Services (NWS) Offices as well as all news media outlets and other federal, state and local agencies and organizations. Many weather related email listserves were jumping the morning of the 5th. News media meteorologists who forecast their own reports were well advised of the potential of these storms. Both NWS and the news outlets were very diligent in both forecasting and warnings with some outlets warning even in advance of the official warning being issued. Skywarn Storm Spotters and Chasers were ready and in many cases in position in advance of these storms.

Skywarn is a program the National Weather Service uses to improve severe storm warnings. Trained volunteers serve as storm spotters and chasers. These spotters pass on vital "ground truth" information to forecasters during severe weather events. They are the eyes and ears not only for forecasters, but for the community as a whole.

Take for example, Arkansas Storm Spotter George Hoelzeman who was already active and out attempting to position himself to spot and chasing the storm, which decided to dropped in on his 120ac property
doing significant damage to the woodlands on his property. The twisters track looks to have come approximately 1/5 to 1/4 mile or maybe slightly closer to his home, though he had two of the reported twister fatalities right in his own back yard.

They were his neighbors and one lived in a mobile home and had a son who lived next door in a brick home. Apparently the parents did not know the storm was approaching until their son who was either alerted to it or saw it coming over a hill and attempted to phone his parents to warn them, when the phone line went dead. That's when the son saw the mobile home go up. Both the mobile home and his brick home were destroyed.

The son, who suffered from several injuries including a piece of wood embedded into his thigh, was taken to the hospital by George. Amazingly enough the son walked almost a mile thru downed trees and power lines to the nearest paved highway where George was making his way back when he picked him up. George being a storm spotter, ham radio operator and weather geek is one of the reasons why his family was alerted and why they were safe.

Spotters and chasers like Geroge are hero's in my book... Most of George's neighbors rely on watching TV for their warnings or have relatives call them. In his area there are very few basements or storm shelters and apparently many people have been living under the misconception that tornadoes can't get them in hilly areas.

The 5 February 2008 storms were numerous rare fast movers are very hard to track and chase. But the National Weather Service and news meteorologists did a outstanding job of tracking and warning as the storms developed and took shape. There were hundreds of watches and warning issued as these storms traveled thru the United States. So many watches and warnings that keeping track of them all was difficult at times.

However there were also a number of news reports (such as, Twisters catch residents off-guard" stating that some people in the effected areas did not get warnings and that one local rural Emergency Management Agency (EMA) did not have sirens. While sirens are designed for out door warning and not reliable for in door and especially at night when people are asleep. What works for one community as far as sirens does not mean it works for all communities and people must just not learn how to protect themselves. But follow through with what they did learn (Residents must rely on themselves for tornado warnings) .

I am sure that there were some that got late warnings and some that were not tuned to the warnings. Moreover, the ones who got late warnings were either not tuned to the weather around them or alerted late by friends and relatives that day or were focused on the news of the day, the Super Tuesday Elections, or some other program or event. Or were part of what I call the "Ambient Clueless Factor". Like those who believe that tornadoes can't get them in hilly areas. While some were even brazen enough to go play in the approaching storms knowing that twisters were out there.....

Here are two examples of how people get themselves injured or killed in severe weather
(video provided by Storm Spotter Beau Dodson). Note the warning sirens in the background. (warning strong language).


Whats it going to take?

Like I said, The National Weather Service, many news outlets, storm spotters and chasers and local emergency management agencies spend a lot of time and money to educate folk preparing them for severe weather. Rural Emergency Management Agencies, many of which are staffed by volunteers, are being short changed by a federal funding system that favors large populations with a emphasis more on terrorism than natural disasters and cannot afford the staffs or equipment they need. But they get the blame anyway for not having the staffs or equipment they need so very badly. My questions here are, where are the local elected officials in these cases? Or are they part of the ambient clueless factor?

Yes there is no guarantee that anyone would survive a disaster or incident even with advanced warning. But if we take the percentage of survival from fire
because of early warning by a well maintained smoke detector and a evacuation plan (the risk of death by fire is reduced by 82 percent ). Then we can assume that the percentage of death from tornadoes from well maintained weather alert radios along with a plan of action, can do the same thing. While NOAA is continually expanding it's repeaters, especially in rural areas where reception is lacking.

So what's its going to take for people to start paying attention to the environment and their surroundings? What's it going to take for people who are willing to go out and buy smoke detectors to provide them with early warning of a fire in their homes, but not spend the money to buy a good NOAA Severe Weather Alert Radio? Especially these days? And what is it going to take for people to smarten up and not play with Mother Nature?

It appears death is not a deterrent to some, while the ambient clueless factor seems to play a leading role in many cases.

Take a moment to think about the loss of life and property damage that was caused by these storms. What's your plan to prepare your family for acts of Mother Nature like tornadoes and severe weather?

What's it going to take?


M/F Riverdance WebCam

UK Vessel Incidents UK Vessel Incidents Three different vessels ran into trouble recently in the United Kingdom; the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch also issued the report on its investigation of the Young Lady, which dragged its anchor and dislodged a natural gas pipeline in June of last year


1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I am baffled by the fact that in tornado alley each house or permanent structure doesn't have a tornado shelter, storm cellar, or basement.

I live in Denver Colorado and cannot imagine not having a basement to go to when the weather turns severe. We are not even as prone to it as some areas of the country.

To me, not having a storm shelter in tornado alley makes about as much sense as not having a snow shovel here in Denver.

Jim C