This is triggering a rain of criticism from people employed by and, associated with, NOAA. Some NOAA people are calling for the broadcast meteorologist to resign. Here are two examples from this morning and I could cite many others:
There are several issues, let's take them one at a time:
Advice to Drive People Out of the Path
The problem is it was the National Weather Service that first suggested driving out of the area that afternoon! Here are just some of the tweets from the National Weather Service in Norman.
definition of "suggested" is "to put forward for consideration." And, yes, at the time the NWS was suggesting driving away, the storm had not yet formed. To its credit, the NWS later said that "once the sirens sound, it is too late" to drive away. But, from where I sit, it is hypocritical for NWS employees to criticize others when the NWS was the organization that initially suggested driving away.
For years, it has been an officially-stated goal of the National Weather Service to increase the lead-time (the interval from when a warning issued to when the storm arrives) for tornado warnings. The question I have asked, many times, is: To What End? When you are talking about 42 minutes of lead-time (which is what east Moore had on May 20) people without basements start thinking about alternatives beyond crouching in a bathtub with a mattress on top of them for three-quarters of an hour. It is scary to think about being home when a giant tornado strikes when you don't have a basement or underground shelter. I comment on my forthcoming suggestions at the end of this posting.
Now, to the meteorologist's suggestions as the tornado was in progress.
Forecasting the Giant Tornado Would Strike South OKC
There is criticism about the TV meteorologists (not just KFOR) forecasting the giant tornado would hit south Oklahoma City. South Oklahoma City was hit but not by the giant tornado but a much weaker and smaller storm.
This just reiterates my oft-made point that weather science does not have the knowledge or techniques to make these types forecasts of intensity and extreme location precision (i.e. which subdivision will be hit).
The Advice to Drive Away
Today, in a guest posting on the blog, Living on the Real World, NOAA meteorologist Harold Brooks makes the following point:
Again, we have NOAA employees blaming broadcast meteorologists. Let me quote from the NOAA-National Weather Service "tornado emergency" warning for the City of Wichita of May 19, 2013:
IMPACT...YOU COULD BE KILLED IF NOT UNDERGROUND... (emphasis mine)
A screen shot of the warning in its entirety is below.
"You could be killed if not underground..." If it is "irresponsible" for TV station meteorologists to state this, it is "irresponsible" for NOAA to do it. This is the problem with the whole "impacts based warnings" program: It is attempting to do things we don't have the scientific knowledge to accomplish.
As I have previously written about May 19, Wichita dodged a bullet. The tornado lifted right at the city limits. But, the fact is, this third "tornado emergency" in 13 months was wrong, just like the other two. In this case, there was no damage from a tornado, let alone "catastrophic" damage. We simply do not know how to predict when a tornado will lift as the May 19th storm did before reaching Wichita and the El Reno tornado before reaching Oklahoma City.
To be clear, I'm not faulting anyone for warning Wichita and south Oklahoma City. Since we don't have the skill to predict when the tornado will lift, it was the right thing to do. But, that is why it is irresponsible to forecast catastrophic damage as the NWS did.
Where Do We Go From Here?
I much prefer to praise the National Weather Service. I have written an entire book about their great work. Sunday, in the wake of the news of the deaths of the three chasers, I recommended we take a time out to let emotions calm. I reiterate that advice. I also recommend meteorologists stop their behavior of criticizing others for actions taken by their own organization.
On June 24, at the American Meteorological Society's Second Meeting on Storm Warnings in Nashville, I will propose significant revamps to the tornado warning system. I'm certain that some will agree, some will strongly disagree and that it fine. What I am hoping to accomplish is to get the dialog started on how we improve on our already successful warning system without all of this consternation.
Full text of "tornado emergency" for Wichita May 19, 2013: