Monday, March 30, 2020

Modern Weather Science: Companies As Well As People Benefit

Yesterday, I wrote about the lives saved by Saturday's advance tornado watches and warnings.

Today, I want to talk about how private sector weather companies made a major difference when that swarm of tornadoes struck the Mississippi Valley region.

Below, via Trainorders.com, is a photo of a high-priority train blown over Saturday near Jonesboro, Arkansas. At first glance, it may even appear to be some type of failure of the warning system. It just the opposite.

This train is one of the highest priority, and fastest, trains the Union Pacific runs. Because of a timely tornado warning from AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, the train was stopped because of the approaching tornado. When the tornado struck, because the train was stopped, the crew was safe in the interior of the locomotives (if the track had been damaged, the locos could have derailed at high speed causing serious injuries). And, the cars merely blew over. Look at the track in the photo. It is pristine. So, the salvage people can recover what is undamaged and clear the wreck easily and train traffic can resume quickly. That would not be true if the train had been traveling, say, 50 mph when the train was struck. The train would have destroyed the roadbed and the wreckage would be an utter mess.
Photographer unknown, via Trainorders.com
If you want to know what it is like when a train does not receive a tornado warning, below is an example from Wisconsin. The train is traveling at 40 mph.

Because of this derailment, the nearby town had to be evacuated because of a hazardous materials spill.

I believe you will agree it is far better -- for both safety and financial reasons -- for the train to be stopped if there isn't sufficient time to get it out of the area.

This service is known as AccuWeather's SkyGuard® Track-Specific Storm Warnings.

This is just one of many specialized services offered by commercial weather companies. In a situation like Saturday's, electric utilities could kill power just ahead of the tornado in order to prevent fires and electrocution by downed wires, companies could do an orderly shut-down so that delicate equipment is not damaged. Hospitals can call in people early so that patients can be moved into safe areas, if needed, but the specificity of the SkyGuard warnings can prevent the need to move critically ill patients if the hospital is not actually in a storm's path.

Commercial meteorology is often at its best and most valuable when the weather is at its worst.

Bottom line: It takes the entire meteorological enterprise: the National Weather Service, broadcast meteorologists, emergency managers and private sector meteorologists for the United States to have the best meteorological services in the world.

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