Watches, Warnings & Advisories for Sunflower Co.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

NWS Releases reports on 2011 tornadoes

The National Weather Service recently released two reports on the Mississippi-Alabama-Georgia tornado outbreak of 2011, and the Joplin, Missouri tornado of May 22, 2011.

The Mississippi-Alabama-Georgia report can be found at

The Joplin report can be found at

The first report on the April 25-28, 2011 events, ranked as the third-worst tornado outbreak since 1950, provides a comprehensive review of the activities of various National Weather Service forecast offices across the states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.  Interestingly, the weather service sought the support and input of social scientists when reviewing these events.  Specifically, the weather service is acutely interested in how severe weather and tornado warnings are received by the community and how the warnings are acted upon.

The growth of smart-phone technology places a tremendous warning dissemination resource in the pockets of many.  Even non-smart-phones that receive only calls and simple text messages can be a powerful tool.  In the report on the April outbreak, the weather service found that "Peer warnings helped motivate people to take protective action. Nearby family and friends supplemented the warning system through personal contact," referring to friends and family using mobile communications technology to warn their neighbors and relatives of the oncoming storms. What does that mean?  It means that you are a vital part of the warning chain.  Don't hesitate pass information along, or assume that others are aware of warnings.  A number of other "best practices" are offered in the report as well, some exclusive to the weather service, but many are applicable to the public.

A recurrent topic that is not limited to these two reports is that we should seek more than one source for weather warning information.  NOAA Weather Radio provides a direct link from the weather service, but it is not infallible, as at least one NOAA transmitter was struck by an Alabama tornado.  Utilizing multiple sources provides you the greatest potential to receive warnings in a timely manner.

Another salient point raised was the perception that people felt they needed personal, visual confirmation that a storm was going to affect them.  The NWS strives to increase warning accuracy by carefully defining the warned area along the expected path of a storm.  In waiting for visual confirmation of the imminent arrival of a tornado, persons in the path reduced their window of opportunity to seek shelter.  In these cases, adequate warning lead-time had been given, yet people put themselves in unnecessary danger by "waiting to see."

Possibly the most important point to take from these reports is one that is not written in them.  That point is that you are ultimately responsible for your actions before, during, and after a severe weather event.  The National Weather Service, your county emergency management, your city public safety officials, and broadcast media can not provide you with instant, specific, and personalized instruction on how you should respond to an imminent weather emergency.  Knowing how to receive warnings, how to interpret and react to them, and when, where, and how to take shelter are your life-saving responsibilities.  

I encourage you to take some time to read through these reports, especially the sections that look at warning times, and public reception and actions based on the warnings.

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