As I write this the morning after, the tornado count from Wednesday’s super outbreak stands at 164.
This figure is preliminary and will be adjusted as storm surveys are performed. If the total is greater than 147, it will set the 24-hour record for tornadoes in the United States, surpassing the April 3-4, 1974 tornado "super outbreak".
Considering that the death toll will rise into the hundreds, the question that comes to mind for many is; “What happened?”
I’ve heard, and in some cases been sickened by, the cable chatter this morning. One meteorologist on a cable television news network went as far to say that they were expecting “thunderstorms with some severe weather, but nothing like this.” That couldn’t be further from the truth.
The weather warning system worked exactly the way it was designed. The Storm Prediction Center had a Moderate Risk for severe weather placed days in advance, only to upgrade to a rare High Risk Wednesday morning. Tornado watches and warnings were issued well in advance.
Our KJRH-TV/Tulsa weather staff watched the live coverage from a Birmingham TV station in amazement. Hard-working, skilled, passionate meteorologists calmly warned of the imminent threat, even while their lives and the lives of their families were in danger.
The meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Birmingham had to evacuate their own offices during one particular tornado threat. (In doing so, they temporarily passed their operational control to the NWS Atlanta office.) But once the threat passed, they went back to work, issuing more warnings.
So, why will the death toll be so high?
At this point, my thoughts are based on past experience (the May 3, 1999, Oklahoma tornado outbreak comes first to mind) and from watching the coverage from the southeast. A few key factors came into play:
These are just my thoughts from seeing the coverage (before, during and after), and from past experience. It is a tragic event. Please keep the residents of the southeast in your thoughts and prayers as they begin the rebuilding process.
Copyright 2011 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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