Wednesday, June 22, 2011

TV Tornado Warnings Really Make a Difference

From the American Meteorological Society's conference on storm warnings in Oklahoma City we learn that TV tornado warnings -- and, how well the TV stations in the market are equipped with the latest technology really does make a difference in the casualty rates of tornadoes.

A paper by Sutter and Simmons of the University of Texas examined numerous variables in an attempt to find out what was most important in cutting the number of deaths and injuries in tornadoes. Turns out the #1 indicator was the number of station-owned Doppler radars (as a proxy for how well TV stations in the markets were equipped overall to cover violent weather).

The second largest indicator was income, which is something demographers have known for a long time. The higher the average income, the more robust the housing stock and the better sheltered people are for tornadoes.  We learned that 7% of the housing in the U.S. is mobile homes but they account for 43% of tornado fatalities!

One somewhat amusing note from the conference was that a scientist due to deliver a paper on forecasting was not here this afternoon because he was hung up by an airline delay due to weather.

The airlines have gotten so bad (worst industry in terms of customer service per a new study of 47 industries) that I now plan to go in the day before. As a meteorologist, it really looks bad if I cannot make it due to weather, especially since I constantly preach the virtues of proactive weather risk mitigation.


  1. The NFL has a rule that the visiting team must be in the city where the game is to be played 24 hours before scheduled kickoff. I've always assumed this is so that flight delays wouldn't affect the teams' ability to be at the stadium on time.

    Ironically, the only time I know this rule was suspended was when Wanda was headed for Miami, and the league decided to send the Chiefs down to play the Dolphins on Thursday night before the scheduled game date. They flew out of KCI, played the game, and flew back home all on the same day.

  2. This business of reporting any radar pattern consistent with a tornado as a tornado is a bit of overkill. I know that the numbers will level out after a while, but I still think a tornado should not be called unless someone actually sees it.

  3. To Anonymous - oh, no, it's not. Speaking from the middle of Tornado Alley, I can personally vouch for the value of Doppler weather radar and good, professional forecasting. A LOT of lives are saved here every year by nothing more than knowing that they're coming and either taking shelter or getting out of the path. The entire neighborhood where I have property was leveled by the recent outbreak; because of the warnings, everyone took shelter (everyone out here either has a shelter or a standing agreement with a neighbor who does) and no one was even scratched. In fact, my first reaction on reading this article was "Great, Captain Obvious strikes again!"

  4. The business of reporting any radar pattern "consistent with a tornado" or "capable of producing a tornado" might seem to be overkill, but I'm of the camp who believes that it's better to be safe than sorry. We have a TV station in the Dayton market that some could say goes overboard when severe weather moves into the region; they had extensive coverage of a recent storm event last month which produced significant wind/hail damage just several miles south of me and which also produced a weak tornado. However, many people took heed of what they were showing and saying and went to their "safe place" out of an abundance of caution...and said after the fact that they were glad they did.

  5. It would seem the ones who complain about tornado warning overkill are those who are upset that Dancing with the Stars or some other popular show gets interrupted. They are upset because the storm does not effect them.

    I know this happens because a couple of our local TV stations have to explain why the interrupted and mentions the complaint calls (on air) they usually get (especially if it is a popular TV show).

    Maybe to prevent what is perceived as "over kill" someone can refine or tweak the Doppler algorithm that defines a tornado vortex signature.


  6. Here in the Dallas area I go to TV first to make the decision to seek shelter or not. Much faster than weather radio or internet weather info. Love the TV maps that show in seconds where the storms are and where they are headed. Without efficient presentation of this specific information I would be forced to ignore the numerous tornado warnings.


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