I was recently sent an email asking me my thoughts on the high death tolls in the recent tornadoes. Below are my thoughts on possible reasons.
I believe a major reason is that this year we have had high end EF4 and some EF5 tornadoes hit major metro areas. That has not happened in a long long time. Tornadoes this strong on average are only about 2% of the total tornadoes in a season. This year, the percentage is much higher.
In the case down in Birmington AL, the part of town hit was poor, with no basements. Basements are always the best place to go, and then hide under something sturdy like a table. This was a high end EF4 tornado with winds around 190 mph. Even if you followed the protection rules, not a lot you can do if your house walls disappear.
I saw one interview where a person hid in the tub in the bathroom. Exactly what you are supposed to do if no basement. The walls exploded, the tub with the person still inside went airborne. The tub landed, he fell out. Just as easily could have been killed. No injuries.
Part of the problem again in a major metro area, if in your vehicle, traffic moves slow so no place to escape, and buildings/trees block your view so do not even see it coming. Sounds like the Joplin tornado was rain-wrapped when it hit town, so even harder to see it.
The vast majority of people still do not have a NOAA weather radio. This is absolutely your best warning device since it gives details where the storm is, and towns in the path along with expected arrival times. When sleeping, playing music loud, in the shower, etc, sirens will not help. Sirens are meant and designed for outdoor warning, not indoor. Most people do not realize this, so falsely rely on sirens to warn them.
A lot of places of employment do not have a weather radio. In particular, your smaller places like small retail shops. Does your place of employment have one? Does it have a safety plan for severe weather? With the storms hitting the larger cities, a lot of small strip mall type places have been hit.
Local media on the whole does a poor job on getting the warning out. In a lot of major metro areas like Chicago, lucky to see a little box appear in corner of the TV screen. No real info or details given, just a flashing county, so really of no help. How fast do these boxes even show up on TV/cable? A lot of radio stations now remote. Not even a local person to read a warning. And if you are listening to subscriber based media, forget it. So more and better warnings, but actually the communications part is diminishing. Even if you receive the warning on your latest mobile device, do you know if it is a warning for where you are? Does your device buzz, ring, etc. for the warning? Have you even setup your device to receive a warning?
Some thoughts to ponder as this record breaking severe weather season shows no signs of slowing down soon.
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