Many of you remember April 14th, 2012 as a day of tornado warnings all across Kansas and Missouri. If you hadn’t heard, there were 97 reported tornadoes that touched down in multiple states that weekend. If you are like us, you might have noticed that the wording and language used in the warnings was more graphic and descriptive than usual. We thought you might like to know more about why!
If you grew up in Kansas or Missouri, you are probably used to the tornado sirens being tested on the first Wednesday of the month at 11am. Also, you might have caught an episode or two of Storm Chasers on the Discovery Channel where the idea of chasing a storm is an exciting thrill instead of a real chance of getting seriously hurt or even killed. For these reasons and more, the consensus is that cities in Kansas and Missouri are somewhat numb and jaded to the early warning system that is in place. As a result, an effort called “Impact Based Warning” is a new weather warning system that tries to clearly describe the risks faced by people in the path of violent weather with the hopes that they will listen and take appropriate precautions.
You might have caught the language used for the storm system that surrounded Wichita on April 14th. Here is a part of that messaging: This is a life threatening situation. You could be killed if not underground or in a tornado shelter. Complete destruction of entire neighborhoods is likely. Mass devastation is highly likely, making the area unrecognizable to survivors.
Wow. If that doesn’t get your attention, not sure what will.
The warnings issued Saturday were sharpened to include, for the first time, detailed descriptions of what type of damage was possible. Each text alert carried a tagline, ranging in severity from “radar indicated” to “observed” to “significant,” the latter indicating a strong, confirmed tornado capable of causing major destruction.
“Mobile homes completely destroyed if hit…,” instructed a warning from the service’s Topeka station early Sunday for three counties in northeast Kansas. “Vehicles will likely be thrown by tornadic winds.”
News media and emergency managers across eastern Kansas and Missouri are participating in the experiment, which follows a year in which the United States witnessed a historic number of tornado fatalities. In Joplin, where an EF-5 twister on May 22 resulted in 161 deaths, many people were slow to take shelter until the tornado began ripping through town.
Weather service offices serving Kansas City, Springfield, St. Louis, Wichita and Topeka are testing the enhanced communication system. In rare cases of imminent danger on population centers, such as the Joplin tornado, warnings will carry the tagline “catastrophic,” but over the weekend, Kansas storm monitors resisted using that designation.
“We’re trying to separate the normal kinds of warnings from the this-can-kill-you warning,” said Kleinsasser, the meteorologist in Wichita.