EARLY WARNINGS SAVE MANY LIVES DURING TORNADO OUTBREAK
November 12, 2002 — A widespread tornado outbreak claimed more than 30 lives in five states over the weekend, but emergency management officials say timely warnings saved more lives than were lost. An estimated 88 tornadoes ripped through Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio and Pennsylvania from late Saturday night through early Monday morning, according to the NOAA National Weather Service. (Click NOAA-16 satellite image for larger view of severe weather outbreak responsible for some reported 88 tornadoes across eastern USA taken at 3:16 p.m. on Nov. 10, 2002. NOAA-16 is a polar-orbiting NOAA satellite, which flies at about 520 miles above the Earth in an almost north-south orbit. Please credit “NOAA.”)
Most of the deaths occurred in Tennessee where at least 16 people were killed. Eleven people died in Alabama, five in Ohio and one each in Pennsylvania and Mississippi. Early reports indicate approximately 200 people sustained injuries.
Even as property damage assessments were just getting underway, it was clear the loss of life could have been much greater.
An alert theater manager in Van Wert, Ohio, was listening to the early warnings on his weather radio and cleared an auditorium of movie goers in time to avoid disaster. While surveying the ruined theater, Lt. Governor Maureen O’Connor said, “There is no doubt in my mind that he saved many lives.” (Click NOAA image for larger view of various types of NOAA Weather Radios.)
Throughout the devastated communities officials were commending NOAA National Weather Service forecasters for early watches and warnings. Monitoring the developing storm system, the NOAA Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., alerted officials, the media and public to the high risk of severe weather. The forecasters went on to issue 14 tornado watches and severe thunderstorm watch.
More than two dozen NOAA National Weather Service forecast offices issued dozens of tornado warnings giving valuable advance notice to the public of the devastation sweeping across the South, Midwest and Ohio River Valley. In Alabama, local emergency managers praised the NWS staff in Birmingham for the advance warning lead times. Fayette County EMA Director Theresa Willcutt said, “The information you provided beforehand and as the storms were occurring was superb. We always knew exactly what was happening.” Walker County EMA Director Johnny Burnette concurred. “The flow of information was more than anyone could ever hope to have in a situation like last night (Nov. 10).”
NOAA Birmingham meteorologist in charge Ken Graham spent most of Monday surveying the damage from a helicopter. He was quite impressed with how well the entire warning process worked. “We monitored the radar images and got the warnings out early. The media did a terrific job of relaying the information to the public. The emergency management people were providing critical information and, most important, the citizens heeded the warnings and took appropriate actions,” he said.
“It just all came together the way it’s supposed to,” Graham added. “Despite the 11 fatalities in Alabama, a lot of lives were saved by the watch and warning process.
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