Early Warnings Credited With Saving Lives During Tornado Outbreak

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Looks like the new tornado early-warning system worked very well, keeping fatalities to a minimum. Despite the many online know-it-alls who were saying it was no big deal, that the Weather Service was exaggerating, the fact is, it was a deadly system that could have killed a lot more people:

WOODWARD, Okla. — The tornadoes were unrelenting — more than 100 in 24 hours over a stretch of the Plains states. They tossed vehicles and ripped through homes. They drove families to their basements and whipped debris across small towns throughout the Midwest. In some areas, baseball-sized hail rained from the sky.

And yet, in a stroke that some officials have attributed to a more vigilant and persistent warning system, relatively few people were killed or injured.

As of late Sunday afternoon, the only five confirmed deaths from the weekend storms were all here in Woodward, a rural community about 140 miles from Oklahoma City. Local emergency management officials said on Sunday that children were among the victims and that there were 29 injured with ailments ranging from minor wounds to those requiring hospitalization.

Days ahead of the deadly winds there was an unusual warning that alerted residents across at least five states to the threat of “extremely dangerous,” “mass devastation” and “catastrophic” weather.

The predictions held, it seems. But the people listened.

“I really think people took the warnings and they took them very seriously,” Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas said on Sunday. “We had more notice on this system than you normally do. You normally are looking at a couple of hours’ notice. Well, this one had almost two days’ notice.”

[...] Forecasters issued their first warning on Friday, predicting a tornado outbreak that had the potential of being a “high-end, life-threatening event” for a swath of the Midwest.

Officials said the enhanced language was developed because of the large number of deaths from tornados across the country in recent years. “This is one of the lessons learned from the various deadly outbreaks of tornadoes last year,” Chris Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Weather Service said Sunday in a telephone interview.

One warning in Wichita, Kan., on Saturday said, “This is a life-threatening situation. You could be killed if not underground or in a tornado shelter.”

The system will be tested for another six months before National Weather Service officials decide whether to continue or expand it.


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