An Important Review of "When the Sirens Were Silent" and Its Application to the Eureka Tornado

After reading and reviewing Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather, Gary England, the legendary Oklahoma meteorologist, has now reviewed my second book, When the Sirens Were Silent the story of the warning system's tragic failure in the Joplin Tornado of 2011. Here is his review:
‘’Sirens” is a must have for all people with even a tiny interest in severe weather.  The author, Mike Smith, meteorologist and scientist, investigates the catastrophic failure of the public weather warning system before and during the giant tornado that swept through Joplin, MO on May 22, 2011.

Mike includes riveting stories of those that survived and those that didn’t. His definitive examination of all the moving parts in the warning system is hard hitting and he spares no person deserving blame.  This book is quite refreshing as it applies transparency to a life shattering event that many times would not easily be available to the public.

With all of the high tech hardware and software developed in the years prior to the Joplin tornado, this system failure should not have happened. The author explains the the event and the rupture of the safety net in a fashion where the reader feels like he or she was present in Joplin on the 22nd of May 2011, a very dark day indeed.

Gary England
Consulting Meteorologist in Residence at Oklahoma University
BS Mathematics & Meteorology, Oklahoma University
Doctor of Humane Letters, Oklahoma University
The lack of effective warning of the Joplin Tornado caused it to be the worst tornado in terms of deaths (161) since the beginning of the Weather Bureau's tornado warning system in the 1950's. No other single tornado even comes close.
When I spoke with St. Luke's Mercy Hospital officials, they told me
they were not aware the tornado was coming until six minutes
before it arrived -- insufficient time to fly the helicopter to safety and
to protect the hospital's patients, guests and staff. Fifteen died in the
hospital and on its grounds.
Photo by "Springfield News-Leader"
I wrote Sirens because I wanted to help insure nothing like this failure ever happened again. Even though I know the names of everyone involved, I did not use their names because my goal was to illuminate where the system failed and not to point blame at individuals.

Unfortunately, things have not improved since Sirens was written.

Just last week, the National Weather Service failed to issue a tornado warning in advance of the major Eureka, Kansas, tornado. The next day, the National Weather Service in St. Louis did issue a tornado warning that was a false alarm. Thousands took tornado precautions for no good reason. Why do I mention the latter? Because there is no consistency in how National Weather Service offices issue tornado warnings and there are few "best practices."

Something is wrong at the National Weather Service, an organization for which I have great respect. Its mission to warn the public-at-large of storms is vital. 

Yet, statistics show National Weather Service tornado warning accuracy peaked in 2007 and has declined since. Anecdotal evidence indicates flash flood warning accuracy has also deteriorated. And, when something goes wrong, the NWS investigates itself as it did in Sandy, Joplin and other storms.

When the Sirens Were Silent sold out of its paper copies a few months after it was published. It is available as an ebook for $2.99. I priced it very low as part of my goal to prevent a recurrence. Read it for yourself and make up your own mind.

-- Because of the importance of this topic, I'm leaving this posting at the top of the blog through the Independence Day holiday. Also, for more on the Eureka warning problem, scroll down to see the raw data.  -- 


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