Hey, all big outbreaks need a name don’t they? While I’m not advocating that my subject line be the name of this outbreak – something had to go there.
I got into the fire dispatch office at 7 a.m. CDT on Wednesday the 27th. I just got home some 20 hours later. As I write, nine tornado warnings are in effect for portions of New York, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia. It has been a long wind-down from what may possibly be a historic tornado event that extended from Arkansas and Louisiana northeastward into New York. Spin the axis of this event counter-clockwise about 45 degrees and it would cover similar areas of the “1974 Super Outbreak”.
Work was just slow enough today to allow me to watch the majority of this event unfold. A few things come to mind:
2. I don’t think I’ve ever watched so many significant “live” tornadoes.
3. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many radar presentations that suggested very bad things were happening.
4. The death toll is muddy (somewhere between 60 and 80), but I said about midway through the event that any toll in double figures would make this a good day.
5. I don’t think it will have been a good day when the final numbers appear.
6. The forecast was excellent by all participants.
7. I’ve never seen SPC use an exclamation mark in a Mesoscale Discussion before.
8. I’ve never seen the words “Tornado Emergency” used so much… and all of them warranted.
9. I didn’t vary my internet television watching very much. ABC 33/40 out of Birmingham was outstanding in their coverage.
10. Birmingham was extremely lucky.
11. When the final death toll is tallied, will we be telling ourselves that it could have been much worse or asking ourselves why it was so high?
12. I’m tired, and I didn’t have anything to do but watch. Watching however, was like watching a bad car wreck happen over and over and over.
Tornadoes – some killer tornadoes – were happening well before sunrise. They are apparently occurring now. Depending on what time frame you use to get your 24 hours… might we have broken the record of the 1974 Super Outbreak?
One thing is for sure, a lot of the photos from 1974 look really similar to the ones we saw on Wednesday.
We have come a long way in forecasting such events. The newer technology of radar and dissemination of information completely dwarfs what was in place in 1974. But in 1974, there were 315 people that were killed and many large cities that took direct hits by violent tornadoes. My initial take is that fewer large cities took violent hits in this event, yet we have only managed to cut the death toll by two thirds (if the number of fatalities exceeds 100 which I believe it will). More people in urban areas? More people in rural areas? More people unlucky? Weaker structures?
Three things helped today… it was a well forecast event that had more than adequate warning lead time (best I can tell)… most of the tornadoes seemed well exposed from rain – visible for miles… and the event occurred during the daylight hours. Of course, there were several things that hurt as well… the speed of the storms… the fact that while yes, it was daylight, it was also during the evening rush period when many were getting out of work and school.
The bottom line is, when the final event summary is prepared, I would like to see details on the fatalities. As much information that can be provided.
1. Did they know about the potential?
2. Did they know about the warning?
3. How much lead time did they get and how did they get it?
4. What action did they take when they got the warning?
5. Did they underestimate the intensity of the tornadoes?
6. Were they trying to get to shelter?
7. Was shelter available?
8. Did they know that actions they were taking were the right ones?
9. Had they been educated about the dangers of tornadoes and what to do to prevent injury?
10. Did they feel like they had enough time to finish their drive thru order before it hit?
I know that you can’t take large tornadoes through populated areas without killing a few people. There are going to be the unlucky ones that do everything right and still manage to become a statistic. But, should we still be killing over a hundred people in a tornado event these days? Have we maxed out our potential in saving lives? Or, is this just a simple case of when hundreds of people and a violent tornado meet at the same spot in the road… a lot of them are going to die.
This one is going to stick with me for a long time. Events like this are going to happen again. But, while it may be next week, it could just as easy be many, many years – possibly even after I’m gone. So, the possibility of a once in a lifetime event combined with the ability of watching it unfold, has definitely left its mark on me. For all the good things that were done, I would sure like to know what went wrong for so many people.
I spent hours and hours collecting radar data from the event which will eventually be posted on my severe weather events blog at http://okweatherwatch.com/severe2011/ .
It will take quite a bit of time going through the 113 radar images where I thought tornadoes were occurring that I’ve saved… and it will take a long time for all the survey information to get sorted out. Hopefully by the end, I will have a few answers to some of my questions as well.
During a time when the National Weather Service is facing huge cuts in budget… I hope that every office that was involved in this event from its start a couple of days ago – until the last tornado leaves the east coast tomorrow – is able to do the type of survey on every event to do this system justice.