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CUmet

Historic Tornado Outbreak April 27, 2011

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If there is some bit of encouragement the death toll in Tuscaloosa proper has not risen since yesterday, I know there were some reports yesterday that it might rise significantly. From past experience there tends to be misinformation in these types of situations.

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I understand that infrastructure was compromised from morning convection, but this is my opportunity to preach preparedness. Many large events are often preceded by morning convection, some of which is severe and does damage. Especially with an event as well forecast as this, I don't think there should be thousands of people being caught off guard. A $20 weather radio with back up batteries can go a long way. For every inconvenience of being woken up in the middle of the night for a false alarm, there is a life saved and that's worth it.

I know it pains me to hear these stories about "no warning" when in reality it was not receiving a warning. I can't imagine how it feels for the many, many warning forecasters out there who issued good warnings but had people perish anyway. I have already heard some disturbing reactions from the higher ups in DC, and it will be very interesting to see how the service assessment plays out. Will it be a blame game or will we actually figure out some new ways to reach people and disseminate the message.

I tell you what a big problem is...many people don't think it could happen to them. I don't know how many times I've heard people say "ah, ain't nothing going to happen here". It's maddening to hear this thought process. I bet some of these people didn't think there was a real chance of anything happening to them either so they just shrugged it off.

Of course I don't know that for sure but just based on so many people I know thinking like this, I don't see why it wouldn't be prevalent elsewhere.

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It makes me wonder if a rope tornado(<100 yds wide) could move along the ground at 70+mph and still do EF5 damage. Has anything like that ever occured?

I don't know but the Elie Manitoba F5 was not very wide when it was filmed destroying the homes that earned it that rating.

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I understand that infrastructure was compromised from morning convection, but this is my opportunity to preach preparedness. Many large events are often preceded by morning convection, some of which is severe and does damage. Especially with an event as well forecast as this, I don't think there should be thousands of people being caught off guard. A $20 weather radio with back up batteries can go a long way. For every inconvenience of being woken up in the middle of the night for a false alarm, there is a life saved and that's worth it.

I know it pains me to hear these stories about "no warning" when in reality it was not receiving a warning. I can't imagine how it feels for the many, many warning forecasters out there who issued good warnings but had people perish anyway. I have already heard some disturbing reactions from the higher ups in DC, and it will be very interesting to see how the service assessment plays out. Will it be a blame game or will we actually figure out some new ways to reach people and disseminate the message.

Are you saying NWS HQ is not happy with the local WFO performance? I ask because I would find that baffling.

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Are you saying NWS HQ is not happy with the local WFO performance? I ask because I would find that baffling.

Higher than HQ from what I understand, as in "what did we do wrong to have so many people die?"

Edit: I do, however, think we should question how we can keep fewer people from dying. But I don't necessarily think anything was done wrong.

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I don't know but the Elie Manitoba F5 was not very wide when it was filmed destroying the homes that earned it that rating.

I don't trust Environment Canada tornado ratings. Most of the time they confirm tornadoes over the phone with possibly a picture or two of damage emailed to them. All the damage pictures I've seen from Elie MB show roofs off houses and pine trees on their side. But then again, I'm no expert.

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I don't trust Environment Canada tornado ratings. Most of the time they confirm tornadoes over the phone with possibly a picture or two of damage emailed to them. All the damage pictures I've seen from Elie MB show roofs off houses and pine trees on their side. But then again, I'm no expert.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Rl-IlMpfUo

Here's a short video of the Elie F5. It shows a house or something being picked up whole and and a large truck being flung from the funnel. I don't know if it was a real F5 or not but it was certainly very strong.

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I don't trust Environment Canada tornado ratings. Most of the time they confirm tornadoes over the phone with possibly a picture or two of damage emailed to them. All the damage pictures I've seen from Elie MB show roofs off houses and pine trees on their side. But then again, I'm no expert.

I attended a conference where one of the surveyors gave a presentation on rating the Elie tornado. It was interesting how they went about it. Even though it directly impacted some man made structures they didn't feel like they had enough information to go on. They ended up using video (from a tripod) to track debris of known size to determine wind speed. Regardless, great thought, effort and care went into that rating.

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I attended a conference where one of the surveyors gave a presentation on rating the Elie tornado. It was interesting how they went about it. Even though it directly impacted some man made structures they didn't feel like they had enough information to go on. They ended up using video (from a tripod) to track debris of known size to determine wind speed. Regardless, great thought, effort and care went into that rating.

They took about four or five months to determine it was an F5. Not like they jumped the gun right off the bat. I'm still suspicious about that tornado, but WFO Winnipeg is just about the best performing office out of them all, so it adds credence.

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Obama visited the area today...

"I've never seen devastation like this," Obama said. "It's heartbreaking.

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I tell you what a big problem is...many people don't think it could happen to them. I don't know how many times I've heard people say "ah, ain't nothing going to happen here". It's maddening to hear this thought process. I bet some of these people didn't think there was a real chance of anything happening to them either so they just shrugged it off.

Of course I don't know that for sure but just based on so many people I know thinking like this, I don't see why it wouldn't be prevalent elsewhere.

That is definitely the problem we have up around here. It's prevalent around here, that is for sure.

There is an old saying that I have heard many times: "Familiarity breeds contempt". In other words, people who are used to a certain thing happening, tend to disregard any dangers that that event, or activity may hold. I live along railroad tracks, its' a busy mainline hosting easily 100+ trains a day. It's part of the normal routine to hear trains all day long, so much so, that after living here for 4 years, I tune them out. What does that have to do with weather? It has to do with this: The people in my neighborhood, me included, tend to "tune out" the railroad, to the point where it is almost ignored, and that leads to a few things: People playing "beat the train" at the crossing, and kids playing along the tracks, walking too close to the tracks, etc.etc..... We react that way because we are "used to it"... the trains are part of the environment, we think we instinctively know when they are coming, and what not... most of us have figured out the daily METRA schedule by just watching the trains go past..... The problem is, our complacency has led us to think less of the dangers because we "know" the railroad....

Same goes for weather on some levels... at least around here.

I think that the people in the Plains, Southern Plains, and in a few parts of the Southeast have a better appreciation for tornadoes than we do up here, in and around the Chicago area specifically. We haven't had a tornado affect the Chicago metro area since the Oak Lawn tornado of, I believe, 1967. Plainfield doesn't really count, because Plainfield is 35 miles away, and "out in the sticks" as that area was referred to back at that time.

Here in Chicago, there are several myths that people rely on, as to why there won't be any tornadoes....

1. Lake Michigan protects us, because of the "lake breeze"

2. The "Urban Heat Island" effect, prevents the formation of tornadoes.

3. Tall buildings prevent tornadoes.

4. We are "too far north" to be affected by tornadoes, and not really part of "Tornado Alley".

Since many Chicago area residents believe one or more of these myths, we get to the "Familiarity breeds contempt" way of thinking. In other words, we don't really worry about severe weather, because we are "protected" according to the above myths. We are also used to getting severe storms, with no tornadoes... Sure, watches are issued, and warnings are broadcast, but in my life time, there hasn't been a tornado touch down east of Route 53. And there is another factor. When it comes to weather, I have discovered, that, so it seems around here, no one takes weather dangers seriously, and there is a contempt, in some ways for weather forecasting. The Blizzard of Feb 1-2 is a perfect example of this.

We knew, anywhere from 120 to 72 hours out, that the possibility existed for a powerful, if not paralyzing snow storm. NWS, the local TV and radio were talking about the storm. By 36 hours out, uncertanty had galvanized into certainty that we were indeed going to get heavy snow. Yet, there were many people that I ran across who didn't believe for a moment that we would get the storm.

"The storm is going to miss"

"They (forecasters) never get it right, it will miss"

"Wrong time of year for a blizzard"

"I doubt we will get it, the weather man is right only half the time anyway"

And the remarks went on and on. There were those of us who prepared, and others who didn't. By the morning after the storm, there were plenty of people who were surprised at the amount of snow that fell, and the severity of the storm. As a 10+ year veteran of Public Safety (Firefighter, 9-1-1 Operator) when it comes to potential weather, or other natural emergencies, a few people will make every preparation for it, some will make a few preparations, but many others will make little, or no preparation, relying on myth, speculation, and in some cases ignorance to alleviate the dangerous situation. On one hand, when we got the blizzard, some people who were highly critical of forecasting began to think a little different, along the lines of "When the weatherman says it's could be dangerous, perhaps we should pay attention". Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when that severe outbreak forecast for the area didn't happen. At least not around here. Attitudes went right back to "They can't forecast a thing".... and right back to the complacency.

So, people play down, disregard, or flat out ignore the forecast for dangerous weather, because after years of never seeing a tornado, they are content to believe that it will never happen, and disregard any potential as "hype" In other words, their "familiarity" with the weather, as they know it, has bred contempt for it, and therefore they tend to ignore anything that doesn't fit what they think they "know". After the missed severe weather event, and after conversations with family, friends, Facebook friends, and even, complete strangers, the explanations (despite the fact that NWS LOT had an excellent explanation on their site for the lack of severe weather that day) I was hearing had little to do with science, and more to do with the reinforcing of the "myth" about the lake, or the urban heat island, etc etc. etc.

So, regardless of the advances in warning times, forecast technologies, and etc.... The obstacle that has to be overcome is, well, to be blunt, stupidity. One last example. A couple of summers ago, my daughter had been invited to a birthday party. It was a fine summer day. The SPC had outlooked us for a Slight Risk. Anyway, I went to drop my daughter off, and arrived at the house to find mom and dad setting up the party outside, while weather conditions were deteriorating. It was obvious it was going to storm (NWS had issued a Severe Thunderstorm Watch about two hours earlier). A line of storms was building on radar, I had checked before leaving the house. The mom was wondering if she should bring out more balloons. I said "Looks like a storm".. to which she replied, with a dismissive wave of her hand "This will blow over it's nothing." Meanwhile, my cellphone is chirping with storm warnings, and inside the house, the cable provider is issuing severe storm warnings over the programming. Other parents had shown up, and the mom hositng the party, still dismissed the warnings and all, and still, she went on, setting up the party. Then the storm broke, and her carefully laid out tables, with paper tablecloths, paper plates, and decorations wound up all over the yard, the neighbor's yard, and out into the driveway. Twenty minutes and 15 frightened girls later, the mom decided that having the party in the house was a good idea. Yeah, the storm, as severe storms go, was minor. Some gusts, a power outage, etc... but it points up the fact, that people, especially around here, in my opinion, tend to not listen to weather warnings of any kind.

I have to agree with the above post, it is maddening to hear the "Noting is going to happen" or, even more so. "The forecasters are almost always wrong." But, when you boil it all down, there are just people that cannot be reached. Not because there is no way to communicate with them, but because they aren't paying attention, or won't pay attention, don't take it seriously, or just don't care. I can tell you, when the blizzard trapped all of those people on Lake Shore Drive for 10 or 12 hours, you can bet a couple of them made the promise to themselves to listen, and heed next time they say there is going to be big snow storm, or any other bad weather for that matter.

A friend and co-worker lives in Red Bank near Chattanooga, and she finally got power back after being without since the Wednesday , we were relieved to hear she was okay (I do Level II Tech Support from home, my co-workers all live in different cities, but we work for the same company) She relayed to me how frightening it was during the height of the storms. There is devastation all around her, fortunately she only suffered the power outage, and some minor damage... not too far from her, though, people lost everything.

Through my experience though, as maddening as it is, I came to accept that no matter what, some people are just going to be that way, and there is nothing you can do about it. You can warn them until you are blue in the face, and they will pay no heed. Machismo? Stupidity? Indifference? Who knows?

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I had an idea, and it's probably dumb and maybe impossible since it's not done yet (to my knowledge), but when there is a supercell bearing down on a city, why isn't there a system to make the radar sweep 90 degrees instead of 360 or some sort of targeting system to decrease the scan time? I know this would present problems if there were other storms being tracked in the area but most major cities could just have more dopplers to take care of this issue. Again just a thought, and in no way am I an expert, just wanted some thoughts on it.

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That is definitely the problem we have up around here. It's prevalent around here, that is for sure.

Long post so I'm not quoting the whole thing, but just wait. A mass casualty tornado is inevitable. It's been 20 years since Plainfield and that was only one violent tornado. Given the urban sprawl around there, that would be bad enough, but imagine 2 or 3 violent tornadoes in one day like 1967. It's hard to just pick one metro area in the US and say "this is where the next mega tornado disaster is likely to be" but your area is probably as likely as anybody. At least you have more basements than Alabama, but there's also more people.

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I had an idea, and it's probably dumb and maybe impossible since it's not done yet (to my knowledge), but when there is a supercell bearing down on a city, why isn't there a system to make the radar sweep 90 degrees instead of 360 or some sort of targeting system to decrease the scan time? I know this would present problems if there were other storms being tracked in the area but most major cities could just have more dopplers to take care of this issue. Again just a thought, and in no way am I an expert, just wanted some thoughts on it.

You're right it would present problems if other storms were being tracked. To go along with your idea though, maybe a network of smaller radars could be placed on top of cell phone towers. They wouldn't have to have as long of a range as the current radars (maybe only 30 miles or so), so they should be able to fit in a smaller dome and wouldn't need as much power.

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I had an idea, and it's probably dumb and maybe impossible since it's not done yet (to my knowledge), but when there is a supercell bearing down on a city, why isn't there a system to make the radar sweep 90 degrees instead of 360 or some sort of targeting system to decrease the scan time? I know this would present problems if there were other storms being tracked in the area but most major cities could just have more dopplers to take care of this issue. Again just a thought, and in no way am I an expert, just wanted some thoughts on it.

The prototype phased-array radar in Norman scans a 90 degree sector and can scan a volume in ~30 sec., but that's a long way off from going national.

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To go along with your idea though, maybe a network of smaller radars could be placed on top of cell phone towers. They wouldn't have to have as long of a range as the current radars (maybe only 30 miles or so), so they should be able to fit in a smaller dome and wouldn't need as much power.

This is being looked at, it's called CASA: http://www.casa.umass.edu/

.

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death toll past 1974 now

http://www.google.co...f5d68f67d174739

Mind boggling, and very sad. Of course we all knew going into that day that a major outbreak was very likely, but you just never know when an event can go from something mundate to devastating. Too many large, violent storms hitting populated areas Some of which likely had no power from earlier in the day. which is something that will have to be analyzed wrt this event. How many of the communities with significant fatalities got no/limited forewarning due to loss of power from that severe MCS in the morning?

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IIRC, the pre-88D radar could be aimed and tilted to measure things like storm tops, I think the transmitter-receiver was actually aimed.

I could be wrong...

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Long post so I'm not quoting the whole thing, but just wait. A mass casualty tornado is inevitable. It's been 20 years since Plainfield and that was only one violent tornado. Given the urban sprawl around there, that would be bad enough, but imagine 2 or 3 violent tornadoes in one day like 1967. It's hard to just pick one metro area in the US and say "this is where the next mega tornado disaster is likely to be" but your area is probably as likely as anybody. At least you have more basements than Alabama, but there's also more people.

You are right, a mass casualty tornado IS inevitable. In all my years in Emergency Services (including volunteer time, comes to over 15) every year I remember there being a tornado drill. Be it a radio drill, a response drill, or a full dress rehearsal. complete with simulated casualties, collapsed buildings and wrecked cars , I participated at some level every year I was a member of an emergency agency.

It's not a question of preparedness, local Fire, EMS and Police are trained, and ready to handle it if it happens. I sat in on planning committees, participated in drills. I am fully aware it can happen here.

The problem is, many Chicagoans don't believe it. And I do mean it, they don't believe it can happen.

I shudder to think what would happen if two or three Tuscaloosa type tornadoes hit the area... and they could touch down anywhere from the WI/IL line to the IL/IN line, and it would stand a good chance of hitting a large urban/suburban concentration.

We may have more basements, but I think we learned from the Alabama tornadoes that perhaps a basement might be of dubious value in some situations...

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Mind boggling, and very sad. Of course we all knew going into that day that a major outbreak was very likely, but you just never know when an event can go from something mundate to devastating. Too many large, violent storms hitting populated areas Some of which likely had no power from earlier in the day. which is something that will have to be analyzed wrt this event. How many of the communities with significant fatalities got no/limited forewarning due to loss of power from that severe MCS in the morning?

I agree, too many and it's very sad. I shudder to think about what would of happened as well if the instability was allowed to spread farther north.

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The prototype phased-array radar in Norman scans a 90 degree sector and can scan a volume in ~30 sec., but that's a long way off from going national.

The Navy has been using phased array radar (The AN/SPY-1) since the early 1980s. I do not know if that radar measured Doppler frequency shift, or just calculated target speed by change in location of the target per change in time. I suspect it is more a money issue than a technology issue, but even when budgets are a priority, it would seem timely and accurate severe storm warnings is something most people could agree about.

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The Navy has been using phased array radar (The AN/SPY-1) since the early 1980s. I do not know if that radar measured Doppler frequency shift, or just calculated target speed by change in location of the target per change in time. I suspect it is more a money issue than a technology issue, but even when budgets are a priority, it would seem timely and accurate severe storm warnings is something most people could agree about.

They're Doppler. One of them was modified for use as a mobile weather radar, and was used in V2.

http://www.cirpas.org/mobileRadarTruck.html

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AVSET is supposed to reduce volume scan time, but I'm not sure of it's status.

http://www.roc.noaa.gov/wsr88d/NNOW/AVSET.aspx

http://www.roc.noaa.gov/wsr88d/NewRadarTechnology/NewTechDefault.aspx

From the AMS Radar Conference paper listed there:

"The basic premise of AVSET is to terminate the current volume scan after the radar has scanned all of the elevations with operationally important returns. In other words, once the data collection elevation overshoots the significant radar returns, the volume scan is terminated because there is no operational benefit realized by continuing the execution of the current volume scan, and a new volume scan is begun. The net effect of AVSET is to shorten the elapsed time between data collection on low elevation angles during periods when no significant data are available on the higher elevation tilts."

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AVSET is supposed to reduce volume scan time, but I'm not sure of it's status.

http://www.roc.noaa....NNOW/AVSET.aspx

http://www.roc.noaa....echDefault.aspx

From the AMS Radar Conference paper listed there:

"The basic premise of AVSET is to terminate the current volume scan after the radar has scanned all of the elevations with operationally important returns. In other words, once the data collection elevation overshoots the significant radar returns, the volume scan is terminated because there is no operational benefit realized by continuing the execution of the current volume scan, and a new volume scan is begun. The net effect of AVSET is to shorten the elapsed time between data collection on low elevation angles during periods when no significant data are available on the higher elevation tilts."

This makes a lot of sense and I hope it goes through. It would be even better if it could be combined with sector scanning, but I realize that's much more difficult to implement.

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You are right, a mass casualty tornado IS inevitable. In all my years in Emergency Services (including volunteer time, comes to over 15) every year I remember there being a tornado drill. Be it a radio drill, a response drill, or a full dress rehearsal. complete with simulated casualties, collapsed buildings and wrecked cars , I participated at some level every year I was a member of an emergency agency.

It's not a question of preparedness, local Fire, EMS and Police are trained, and ready to handle it if it happens. I sat in on planning committees, participated in drills. I am fully aware it can happen here.

The problem is, many Chicagoans don't believe it. And I do mean it, they don't believe it can happen.

I shudder to think what would happen if two or three Tuscaloosa type tornadoes hit the area... and they could touch down anywhere from the WI/IL line to the IL/IN line, and it would stand a good chance of hitting a large urban/suburban concentration.

We may have more basements, but I think we learned from the Alabama tornadoes that perhaps a basement might be of dubious value in some situations...

Time makes people forget. Plus there's a little truth in the lake myth, but it gets exaggerated to the point where people think it will prevent something big every time.

Cook county had 24 minutes of lead time on 4/21/67, outstanding for that era especially given that the tornado hadn't previously touched down yet in another county. Oak Lawn had about 25,000 people and the tornado damage path was only a couple hundred yards wide at most, but we got unlucky with a lot of people caught in traffic. I've read the damage survey and it seems like the only F4 damage occurred in Oak Lawn...so if that severe damage would've been more widespread or farther northeast, it probably would've been worse.

There's been some frightening modeled scenarios about what would happen if a violent tornado tracked through Chicago. The area with rather high population density is much bigger though as you said.

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Time makes people forget. Plus there's a little truth in the lake myth, but it gets exaggerated to the point where people think it will prevent something big every time.

Cook county had 24 minutes of lead time on 4/21/67, outstanding for that era especially given that the tornado hadn't previously touched down yet in another county. Oak Lawn had about 25,000 people and the tornado damage path was only a couple hundred yards wide at most, but we got unlucky with a lot of people caught in traffic. I've read the damage survey and it seems like the only F4 damage occurred in Oak Lawn...so if that severe damage would've been more widespread or farther northeast, it probably would've been worse.

There's been some frightening modeled scenarios about what would happen if a violent tornado tracked through Chicago. The area with rather high population density is much bigger though as you said.

In 1967, the population density was still mainly concentrated in Cook County... Much of DuPage, esp. western Du Page, like Naperville, Wheaton, and other towns were still considered "the sticks" back then, because large parts of DuPage were farmland. Same for Lake Co IL as well. Will Co. outside of Joliet was farm country as well. 44 years later, and DuPage has a large population as do all of the other counties around Chicago. I remember going to visit family friends who moved to Lisle in the mid 70's we used to drive I-5 (now I-88) out there, and all I remember seeing was farms, and open land. The area started to really grow in the late 70's through the 80's.

If an EF-4 touched down at say, I-55 and Route 53, and tracked NE even for 10 miles, the damage, and loss of life would be horrendous. If it tracked farther say 15-20 miles, it would be grinding through a very densely populated area not only full of people, but industries as well... I don't even want to think about it.

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The prototype phased-array radar in Norman scans a 90 degree sector and can scan a volume in ~30 sec., but that's a long way off from going national.

It does make for some cool images when the outbreak is in Oklahoma. I wish they could make that semimobile. It would have been nice to gotten it to Alabama this week. Maybe I'll write in a suggestion to NWRT.

However I've never seen the thing and I don't know how hard to would be to move and reassemble.

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