Thoughts and Observations on May 24 Tornado Outbreak

From Rick Smith at the NWS – Norman, Oklahoma … from!/notes/rick-smith/thoughts-and-observations-may-24-2011-tornado-outbreak/10150263490991098

It’s hard to believe that one week ago we were gearing up for a big severe weather day.  After working the event and surveying damage, here are some of the things that I think are important to take away from the event…

  • Underground storm shelters and safe rooms saved dozens – likely hundreds – of lives. I was surprised by the number of people who had shelters, and many of them invited friends, family and neighbors to join them. There were several homes where an interior room on the lowest floor would not have been enough to survive the tornado.
  • You cannot have too many sources of weather information. Many people we spoke to have satellite TV, and once the power went out or reception was lost, their source of weather information was gone. You have to have more than one way to get critical weather information!
  • Some people were confused by the different storms and weren’t sure if they were at risk. Several people in the path of the Washington-Goldsby tornado told us that they knew about the Chickasha tornado, but did not perceive a threat from the tornado approaching them until they saw it or a family member called them.
  • Social warnings made a difference on May 24th. Despite the fact that NWS warnings were in effect and storms were nearby, many people did not act until prompted (begged, threatened) by friends or family members. Trusting the person who’s giving you the warning makes a big difference in how people react.
  • People did extraordinary things to get ready for tornadoes on May 24th. Businesses closed early, schools canceled activities and people changed their plans based on forecasts. Many used the extra time to travel to a safe place, to ready supplies and to gather with family.
  • Half of the tornado deaths occurred in vehicles. Three motorists died when the tornado crossed I-40 near the Calumet exit, and two others died on Route 66. The tornado was very large and very difficult to see as it crossed the interstate, and it’s quite likely they never even saw the tornado.
  • The colored blobs on radar really come to life when you and your family are in the path. For a while on Tuesday afternoon, a tornadic supercell was on course for my neighborhood in NW Norman, while a second tornadic storm was taking aim on the National Weather Center. I knew the family was in our in-ground shelter (spider-free thanks to my Sunday cleaning), but it was still a tense time.
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