|Posted on this blog early Monday morning. I predicted more than 100 tornadoes would occur.|
I have already given two interviews to reporters wanting me to comment on why so many people were killed. I wish I didn't have to answer the question, it seems premature when people are still digging out of the wreckage. We'll know the answer in a few months after meteorologists and social scientists do their post-storm assessments. That said, people want answers and understandably so. Tornado season is only halfway done and we don't want to lose any more precious lives if we can avoid it.
Both reporters were already familiar that the forecasts and warnings of yesterday's storms were quite good. So, "what happened/what went wrong?", they asked. Here is some of what I believe is true, pending formal investigation.
- This was a historic event. It appears (not sure yet) to be the worst tornado outbreak, in terms of number of F-4 and F-5 tornadoes (the upper 2% in damage potential) since April 3, 1974. It also appears similar to the "Enigma Outbreak" (same geographic area) of February, 1884. The latter is estimated to have killed as many as 1,200.
- When dealing with F-4 and F-5 tornadoes, there is no assurance of survival. For example, in Greensburg, KS in 2007, eight of the 9 people killed (out of the 1,500 in the tornado's path) were in shelter, including basements. The South has relatively few basements and many tens of thousands were in the path of these tornadoes. The bathtub offers reasonable protection for the far more common F-1 to F-3 tornadoes. It offers little protection during F-4 and F-5 tornadoes where everything is swept away.
- Earlier tornadoes knocked out the communications infrastructure. This is a problem I have not previously encountered. It was first reported by a Birmingham TV station today. There are reports that because of the multiplicity of tornadoes, the power had been lost in the first wave of storms and so TV, internet, etc., were not available when the second wave occurred. These people likely did not get the warning. We do not yet know how widespread this problem was.
- Mobile homes. We talked about this less than two weeks ago. I was in Charlotte a week ago today and was told by insurance industry people that the tie-down laws are not enforced (no requirement for inspection upon occupancy). I have seen video of mobile homes that were not tied down and were without wind skirting. They also told me few mobile home parks had shelters. If true, this is a deadly combination. In the April 15-16, 2011 tornadoes from Misssissippi to North Carolina, 86% of the deaths were in mobile homes.
While I believe all of the above is correct, it is impossible to know at this point exactly why so many lost their lives. I'm hopeful that weather science will come up with the answers and we will be able to build upon the already excellent warning system.
For now, please contribute to the charities helping the victims of these storms and keep them in your prayers.