Monday, April 27, 2020

More on the Stunning Success of Weather Science

The National Hurricane Center has finalized its report on the catastrophic Hurricane Dorian. As a result, here is a ranking of the most intense hurricanes to strike the Atlantic Ocean Basin (Atlantic, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico). The chart is below. You will, I'm sure, have to click on it to make it fully legible. One-hundred sixty knots = 185 mph sustained winds.
As I was researching this post, I went back to look up the number of deaths associated with Dorian. I was flummoxed to learn, according to Wikipedia, 70 were killed. The second strongest hurricane in history in the Atlantic Basin, $5 billion in damage, yet just 70 confirmed deaths (there are a number still missing). While each of those is a terrible tragedy for the families involved, that number is so low as to take your breath away. Original estimates were in excess of 2,000.

While I am certain there were other factors involved, this is another "miracle" of weather science. Had this storm struck without warning, I'm certain the deaths would have been in the thousands, if not more. Weather science in general, and the National Hurricane Center in particular, deserve tremendous appreciation.

I want to return to the 1991 Wichita - Andover Tornado for a moment, the 29th anniversary of which was yesterdayPlease also see article below.

That tornado, the warning of which I was intimately involved, was the 5th strongest tornado since 1950, when reliable tornado statistics began. Click on the video above to see its violence when it struck McConnell Air Force Base. You will then see a police car driving through the Golden Spur Mobile Home park to help warn the residents.
The path length of the Wichita-Andover Tornado was nearly 50 miles.
Given roughly 86,000 tornadoes have occurred in the USA since 1950 and this tornado ranks #5 -- and given the Andover tornado went through a densely populated area -- including a large mobile home park -- one would have expected the death toll to have been, easily, in the three figures had the tornado been a surprise.

Fortunately, the mobile home park complied with Kansas law and had a large underground shelter. The tornado warnings gave residents plenty of time to get there. Shortly after, the Centers for Disease Control did an extensive study (200+ in-person interviews) and determined the advance warnings saved more than 70 precious lives. If the mobile home park hadn't had a shelter, at least another couple of dozen people would have died there if the tornado had struck without warning. So, it is highly likely, in total, more than 100 lives were saved.

Overall, weather science has cut the tornado death rate (deaths per million population) by 97%. That fact is staggering. The USA's tornado warning system is a Nobel Prize-worthy endeavor. It is especially amazing in view of the fact that weather science in the United States is "meagerly and begrudgingly funded." Funding for the entirety of governmental weather science (satellites, radar, salaries, etc.) and the hurricane, tornado, blizzard, daily forecasts, etc., comes to about the cost of a McDonald's Happy Meal® for every man, woman and child each year. Compare that to the cost of a single trip to your doctor for each member of your family.

Per the map above, there is a chance of tornadoes tomorrow (a much better chance of large hail and damaging thunderstorm winds) and then a few days' pause. Then more tornadoes, perhaps violent tornadoes, starting again next week and through the rest of May. Hurricane season starts June 1.

So, when a tornado, hurricane, or other storm warning is issued for your location, I urge you to give it your full attention and to act accordingly. 

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