Surviving The Storm

Tornado Outbreak Slams Through Oklahoma

In the wake of the tragedy in Moore, OK, Brad Plumer considers tornado early warning systems:

Just 16 minutes before a gigantic twister formed near Oklahoma City on Tuesday, the National Weather Service put out a tornado warning. That doesn’t sound like very much time to get out of the way or hunker down. And for many, it wasn’t: At least [24] people died when the tornado tore a wide swath through the city of Moore, Okla. But those 16 minutes are actually an enormous advance for weather science. Back in the 1980s, the average tornado lead time was a scant five minutes. Today, it’s about 13 minutes. And meteorologists are now able to issue storm watches even earlier, thanks to powerful computers that allow them to run detailed simulations.

Kevin Simmons, a natural hazard economist, compares the two schools hit by the tornado:

Briarwood Elementary and Plaza Tower Elementary are about a mile apart and both were in the path of the storm.  As of this writing there are no fatalities at Briarwood and many from Plaza Tower.  Why?  This is an important area of inquiry and the reasons are likely complex.  It could be engineering.  Was one school built differently from the other?  It could be storm intensity.  Along a tornadoes path, the intensity will vary.  A small change in intensity can have different effects on buildings and it could be that the change in intensity was sufficient to create very different outcomes on buildings so close to each other.  It could be location.  The path of the storm is estimated to be a mile wide.  But wind intensities vary within the path with the strongest winds toward the center.  Or it could be tragic luck.  Where in the building were the children when struck by the storm?

(Photo: Dana Ulepich searches inside a room left standing at the back of her house destroyed after a powerful tornado ripped through the area on May 20, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. By Brett Deering/Getty Images)