Message of Safety During Large Tornadoes

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An EF-5 tornado bears down on Moore, OK, on May 20th, 2013

In the meteorological community, there’s a lot of debate following the recent EF-5 tornadoes in Oklahoma during the last two weeks of May.  Some of the debate centers on the EF-5 classification of the El Reno, Oklahoma, tornado on May 31st.  This storm was originally classified an EF-3 based on damage but was upgraded to EF-5 after a mobile doppler radar reportedly recorded peak winds of 296 mph (second highest ever measured in a tornado).  The other debate focuses on how the message of tornado safety was conveyed to the public during the Moore tornado of May 20th.  I watched local news coverage of the event live on the internet from both News9 and KFOR.  I did not hear everything that was said by local meteorologists as the storm was moving into Moore but I was impressed with the overall coverage of the event and I know there were lives saved thanks to the hard work by the on-air meteorologists.  The debate centers around phrases that were reportedly used such as, “You need to get out of the path of this storm,” and “You need to be underground to survive.”  This advice has received quite a bit of attention.  One of the best responses to this advice was written a few days ago by Harold Brooks, a scientist at The National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman.  I agree with his assertion that while a storm shelter is best to survive tornadoes, it is counterproductive to tell people who don’t have shelters to get in a car and try to escape.  Obviously, if an EF-4 or EF-5 is bearing down on you, you are at a very high of injury or death if you aren’t in an engineered shelter but death is not guaranteed even in extreme events.  So, how should the message of risk be conveyed to the public considering these factors if a large tornado is bearing down on a highly populated community?  If you don’t have a shelter or can’t get underground and you’re not in a mobile home, go immediately to the lowest floor of the home or building and get into a small room, such as a closet or bathroom, away from outside walls.  I strongly urge you to read more on this advice from Harold Brooks HERE.

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