Friday, March 27, 2015

Was Latest Moore Tornado Forecast Well? If Not, Who, What Is Better, Who Should Pay For It?

The Moore, Oklahoma tornado develops on Wednesday
The tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma the other day hit before a tornado warning was issued. Is the National Weather Service to blame for not issuing a timely warning?

It's possible they could have done better, but more investigation I think is needed before you can draw that conclusion, in my opinion.

Accuweather's Enterprise Solutions is making hay of this by saying they were warning clients well ahead of the National Weather Service so you should buy their product.

Of course, you probably have to pay money for that, and the National Weather Service is free.  Is Accuweather's services actually better? And if Accuweather's warnings are better and more timely, should people pay to potentially save their lives? There's an ethical question for you.

It's true that the National Weather Service didn't issue a tornado warning for Moore until a few minutes after local television stations began broadcasting live images of the twister blowing out countless power lines and hurling dust and debris into the air.

Radar images showed the tornado developing rapidly in a particularly strong thunderstorm in a line extending from well southwest of Oklahoma City all the way past Tulsa, which had its own problem with tornadoes and severe storms.

Judging from Accuweather's description, and perhaps their assessment of a 2012 Oklahoma tornado, it appears their forecasts were better and gave people warning earlier than the National Weather Service.

But were those exceptions to the rule? Whose forecasts are consistently better? The National Weather Service? Accuweather? The Weather Channel? Some amateur weather geek typing away on a battered laptop in his mom's basement in Idaho?

I have no idea. It would be interesting to see if there are any independent studies of who does severe weather forecasting the best.

This isn't just an academic exercise. If we can find which outfit is doing the best forecasting, maybe we can cherry pick the best methods from each weather outlet's best successes and really amp up tornado forecasting. That would save lots of lives in the long run.

Once we do that, we then need to decide whether it's morally acceptable for the public to have to pay for superior life-saving warnings, or should it be freely distributed to everyone?

That said, tornado and severe weather forecasting is much better than it used to be.

Shortly after Moore was hit by the devastating, deadly EF5 tornado in 2013, CBS news noted that meteorologists were able to give the public a general sense that a bad tornado was likely in the Oklahoma City area several hours before the tornado hit.

Still, nobody was able to pinpoint the EF5 Moore tornado's expected path until minutes before it carved its deadly path.

There were timely warnings once the storm was on the ground CBS News said that the average lead time for a tornado warning was about five minutes in the 1980s to about 13 minutes today. That's eight extra minutes to get into a basement or other relatively safe place before the tornado hits.

But can warnings someday be issued one, two or even three hours before the tornado strikes. CBS noted that some meteorologists think so.

Of course, the length of time people have to get out of the way of a tornado don't matter much if the public, usually because the message hasn't gotten through, that there are do's and don't on how to react to a tornado warning.

People in cars still stop beneath overpasses, ever since a famous video of a 1990 Kansas tornado showed motorists doing just that. But stopping at an overpass is the worst thing you can do during
a tornado because the span funnels and speeds up wind and air borne debris associated with a twister.

If the public in the future get a two or three hour warning before a tornado hits, will they try to drive away from danger? If so, will that cause huge traffic jams where people are still in harm's way in their cars when the tornado hits instead of pretty safe in their basements?

We had a taste of that last year in Oklahoma. When the massive El Reno tornado seemed headed toward Oklahoma City, television meteorologist Mike Morgan told people on air to drive south, away from the expected path of the tornado

That contributed to incredible gridlock on the highways, and had the tornado not lifted, hundreds of people stuck on the highways could have been killed.

So was the warning to drive away a bad idea? Many people say yes.

Which means not only to we have to find the best ways to predict tornadoes we also have to find the best way to warn people, and the best ways to react to those warnings

Anyway here's a couple more videos from Moore, this week and in 2013.

Here's a video of the wall cloud that produced Wednesday's tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, taken from a neighborhood destroyed and largely rebuilt from the 2013 storm. Very otherwordly and scary, especially for the tornado battered people who live there:

Of all the videos of the Moore tornado of 2013, I hadn't seen this dramatic one until yesterday:

1 comment:

  1. Hi Matt, What disturbs even more is that AccuWeather brags about its advance tornado warning for its corporate clients yet did not provide that same warning to the general public on its AccuWeather TV network. Seems negligent, public service-wise. I refer to a Washington Post article in my blog, which links to a Baltimore Sun op-ed on porotest over Verizon's dropping TWC