Aaron Kennedy, Grand Forks, column: Planning boosts odds of surviving tornadoes
By Aaron Kennedy GRAND FORKS -- Recent tornadoes in Alabama and Missouri are tragic and heartbreaking stories. Regardless of the precautions taken, loss of life sometimes is inevitable when violent tornadoes strike populated areas. But the number...
By Aaron Kennedy
GRAND FORKS -- Recent tornadoes in Alabama and Missouri are tragic and heartbreaking stories. Regardless of the precautions taken, loss of life sometimes is inevitable when violent tornadoes strike populated areas. But the number of fatalities and injuries with these events is mind-boggling.
From a meteorological perspective, these tornadoes were well forecasted. Days in advance, the Severe Storm Prediction Center highlighted these regions for enhanced risk of severe weather. Hours beforehand, tornado watches were issued by the same organization.
For the deadliest tornadoes, warnings were issued by local weather service offices 15 to 20 minutes before the tornadoes struck. These warnings were issued based on both our nationwide network of Doppler radas and reports from local storm spotters. Local media provided live coverage of the tornadoes from tower-cams.
Given these circumstances, why was there such great loss of life? Tornadoes of equal magnitude have struck other communities, and the loss of life was less staggering.
As these recent events suggest, the problem seems to lie with the sociology of people and severe weather. With the current state of our radar technology and limited funds for additional radars, it is impossible to have "perfect" tornado warnings. The fact of the matter is YOU WILL experience tornado warnings that either a) don't have tornadoes, or b) have tornadoes but don't influence your location.
In the meteorological community, we refer to the first scenario as false alarms. False alarms will always be an issue, but from our point of view, they are better than not providing any warning at all to the community.
Survivors from these recent events have shared many interesting comments that suggest the loss of life is greater due to personal complacency. Many have made comments such as: "I didn't think it would happen to me," "I heard the warnings but didn't think it was a big deal," "We didn't have any warning" and "We didn't hear the sirens."
Many videos have surfaced on YouTube and elsewhere that show survivors waiting until the last second to take cover. While the videos are jaw-dropping, these individuals are lucky to be alive. Waiting until you see the tornado is a dangerous proposition. Many tornadoes are rain-wrapped or travel at fast speeds. Trying to estimate the strength of a tornado by visual cues is impossible.
Tornadoes can intensify or weaken in a moment's notice, and even the weakest of tornadoes can cause fatal injuries.
In light of these observations, I implore Herald readers to think about what they would do if a tornado occurs while they are at work, home, shopping, at the park, in a vehicle and so on.
Business owners should have a clear plan of action to protect their customers and employees.
The key to surviving a tornado in most cases comes down to personal responsibility. Do you know where and how to receive severe weather warnings? Do you know sirens are designed to be heard only outside? Do you take tornado warnings seriously?
Do you understand that there will be false alarms, but this is a limitation of our current technology? Do you know that tornadoes can cross rivers, hills, burial grounds and so on, and can impact you at any location?
With North Dakota's severe weather season just around the corner, this is the perfect time to come up with a severe weather plan. Although we live in the northern tier of the country, tornadoes still are common, and you don't have to look back further than last year to know that deadly tornadoes occur in the region.
Although the likelihood of being struck by a tornado is low, an ounce of preparation can be the difference between life or death.
Kennedy is a doctoral student in atmospheric sciences at UND.