Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Some Thoughts on This Evening's Mobile Tornado

Addition: The NWS's preliminary damage survey is here.

Their report on the tornado is here.


This multi-vortex tornado struck Mobile earlier this evening and, according to preliminary reports, did considerable damage. From what I've seen so far, no deaths and no serious injuries occurred. I'd like to think it was because of the tremendous amount of extra effort by meteorologists of all stripes to let people know that, even though it was Christmas, there was a major tornado threat.

This tweet, earlier this evening, was a bit disheartening:
Let me be completely clear: Of course, there is an element of good fortune in this extraordinary result. Perhaps even Divine Providence played a role, especially on Christmas. But, it completely misses what I believe is the real story. The NWS, AccuWeather and others all put extra resources into this storm, sometimes at considerable personal inconvenience.

Many meteorologists knew that people would be focused on celebrating Christmas and tornadoes would be the farthest things from their minds. So, we started early and hit this one hard. For example, this was posted at 6:25am yesterday on this blog and reiterated numerous times.

At 1:05 this afternoon, about four hours before the tornado, I posted this National Weather Service "particularly dangerous situation" tornado watch here, on AccuWeather's Facebook page, LinkedIn, Twitter and elsewhere.

Then, at 4:19pm, I posted on the developing tornado threat for Mobile. The tornado is about 30 miles away at this point.
There were six messages in the intervening half hour as the tornado approached. Twice, I suggested that friends and relatives be telephoned to make sure the warnings got to the people that needed them.
I post the information from this blog simply because it is easy and fast for me to access. The NWS did a great job with the watch and warning. I know AccuWeather was working hard to warn our commercial clients. As I see it, this is the bottom line:

To all the meteorologists who canceled vacations, gave up time with their families, and used their professional skills: You are heroes tonight! 


  1. Amen, and well said! Don't forget those that were also scheduled to be on duty, as they are on all holidays, 24/7/365!

  2. Mike, I agree with everything you stated above, with the following additions:

    1. Since it is Christmas Day, the vast majority of downtown businesses were closed, no public events were taking place and most people were at home -- which helped keep them out of harm's way. Had the tornado struck at 5 p.m. on a normal weekday with rush hour in progress (as in Tuscaloosa) or a spring/summer weekend with people out shopping and attending events such as graduations, weddings, etc. (as in Joplin), the outcome might have been much worse.

    2. Downtown Mobile was hit by a weaker (EF-1, if I remember correctly) tornado less than a week ago -- which served to remind residents that "tornadoes CAN happen here, even in December." This is turn increased people's awareness and willingness to heed what the meteorologists were telling them.


  3. Your point is dead-on. In weather, there is seldom such thing as a "surprise event" any more - all you have to do is pay attention. Earthquakes and asteroids - that's another matter. But on the weather front, you guys absolutely do give us the time to react. And that is all we can ask you to do. Thanks to you and all your fellow professionals.

  4. This reminds me: I wanted to thank you and Rob White for your Sandy warnings. At a time when the local NWS office and TV forecasters were implying Sandy wouldn't be too bad, you two got my family warned.

    We lost power for 5 days and an oak tree fell on our house. But thanks to you bloggers' warnings, we had batteries for our lantern, fuel for our camp stove...and most importantly, we had a "Candlelier" candle lantern.

    We bought it because of your warnings. It lets you heat a mug or small kettle above its 4 candles. And since it's just candles, it's safe to use indoors. Because of it, we had hot drinks every morning and evening--without going outside or using the camp stove indoors. It takes 20 minutes to boil 2 cups of water, but even so, it really helped us stay warm.

    Your warnings really saved our butts. Especially my elderly father who has trouble with the cold!

  5. Al, thank you. You made my day. Meteorologists live for this type of feedback.