Wednesday, May 30, 2012

‘When the sirens were silent’ – an important read for learning from the Joplin tornado disaster

Jason Samenow in the Washington Post: One of the worst tornadoes of the modern era devastated the city of Joplin a year ago, killing 161 people and leaving vast destruction that produced $3 billion in damages. Little could’ve been done to avoid the catastrophic economic losses, given the intensity of the tornado, at the very top of the scale (EF-5). But Mike Smith, in his new book, “When the sirens were silent,” makes a compelling argument that the people of Joplin were let down.

Smith, senior vice president at AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, acknowledges the historic intensity of the tornado meant some loss of life was inevitable, but contends two interrelated factors worsened the human toll:
  • The tornado siren system was flawed and, on that day, was exposed
  • The National Weather Service didn’t have its finest day
The book, a quick read, is a stirring call to action to improve tornado warning communication in this country. ... His comments on the inconsistencies and flaws in sounding tornado sirens are most alarming. The problems he says, are systemic, and not limited to Joplin.

The basic problem, Smith says, it that sirens are sounded too often in most places. Sometimes they sound in an entire county for a warning that covers just a sliver of it; sometimes for other thunderstorm phenomena like large hail and/or strong straight-line winds; and sometimes for false alarm warnings – warnings for tornadoes that were incorrectly detected....

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