In 2011, 15 were killed at Joplin’s St. John’s Mercy Medical Center by the F-5 tornado that moved across the city. In my interviews with hospital personnel, they said they were not aware the tornado was approaching until just six minutes before the tornado struck. There wasn’t sufficient time to move patients into safe areas. Surgery was in progress when the tornado hit. The outdoor generator was destroyed, so the operating room was plunged into total darkness.
[Rick Smith of the National Weather Service in Norman says the information I relied on was incorrect and that no one died at the hospital. While he did not provide a link, he is an expert on this event. I am happy to correct the record.]
These tragic examples demonstrate that hospitals and certain other industries need more notice of a tornado than the 10 to 15 minutes that works so well for the public-at-large. AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions has been searching for a solution to this challenge and we believe we have found it in a high-resolution meteorological model developed by Hazardous Weather Notifications, LLC (HazWx). AccuWeather purchased the company's assets in January. This was topic of a story in today’s Wichita Eagle business blog.
In the story Eagle’s story, I mention hospitals and discussed how the model made an accurate a six-hour forecast of a tornado. A meteorologist with the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, expressed skepticism via Twitter that our new model could do what I indicated. So, I replied that I would post the pertinent case history on my blog. BTW: An important part of science is exchanging information and ideas and seeing if those hold up to scrutiny.
On December 23, 2014, the model was run at
7am 6am [forgot we were on standard time in December] and produced
a forecast of high helicity (turning in a thunderstorm's updraft) from north of Lake Ponchartrain across southeast
Mississippi. This got our attention because the values exceeded the thresholds
that our experience indicated are associated with tornadoes. Plus, the general weather
conditions were favorable for tornadoes across the region.
The model was again run at
1pm noon with an extraordinary result.
Extremely high helicity values were forecast along an intermittent path that
(based on rules we have developed) overlapped
the morning forecast. This, combined with an atmosphere favorable for tornadoes,
would have prompted our meteorologists to issue a tornado forecast (not a “warning” as we generally think of them) for
hospitals or other clients in the projected path area that needed extra “lead
|Annotated copy of my storm notes|
Lead time is defined as the interval from the receipt of the forecast or warning to the time of arrival of the storm. For a hospital, this might mean that extra people should be ready to move patients into safe areas and elective surgery should be postponed.
As the afternoon unfolded, tornadoes and damaging winds occurred along the path of the bright red arrow. Five people lost their lives in the town of Columbia, MS. The National Weather Service offices in New Orleans and Jackson did a post-storm survey and they were gracious enough to provide photos of the damage at various points in that path. Those are the thumbnail-sized photos.
The National Weather Service has a model known as the HRRR (left) that was run at the same time and also produces a helicity forecast. The HRRR’s helicity forecast was well to the west of the path of the tornado.
The HazWx model does not work in all situations. Fortunately, the times it is likely to perform poorly are fairly consistent and known to our meteorologists. In those situations, we would not issue a tornado forecast. That stated, some of the forecasts made by the model have been nothing short of astounding.
We continue to test the HazWx model to get more experience with it. We will be providing these forecasts to our clients this spring when nature creates the necessity. All of us at AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions are excited by this opportunity to provide this new level of actionable information to our clients with the need for extended lead time tornado forecasts.