Some Valuable Thoughts From a Nashville NWS Meteorologist

Women emerging from shelter after
the Moore, OK tornado
 - -
Dan Hawblitzel is the science and operations officer for the National Weather Service in Nashville. Earlier today, he published, via Twitter, a series of tweets in the wake of Tuesday's tornado that are so right on the money they should be shared throughout tornado alley.  I'll have a couple of comments below.

3. It's true that humans will often seek visual confirmation of a threat before acting, even a meteorologist. Even after seeing the warning, it wasn't until I saw the tornado approaching from my back deck that I scrambled to shelter with little time left. Precious minutes wasted.

4. Many (most?) people are relying on cell phones/WEA as their primary warning method now. Every person I spoke to mentioned this, mostly by having alerted them, but sometimes by being caught off guard because it didn't go off. Some mentioned how little lead time it provided.

6. Whatever the meteorological reasons, your expert mesoscale analysis is FOR NOTHING if it's not translated into an actionable message that people actually receive. If you think tornadoes are possible, yet people are going to bed unaware of this, then we need to work harder.

7. We [NWS Nashville post-storm survey] surveyed almost every type of community imaginable, from lower-income/minority-majority neighborhoods, to young progressive urbanites, to affluent suburbs, to rural and small town residents. Saw tattered Trump flags, rainbow flags and American flags. In every single one there was overwhelming community support with people helping their neighbors and keeping their spirits high. It was really amazing to see. Just goes to show that despite our differences, we humans really are amazing at the core.

To elaborate on two of his points: The first is that if even a meteorologist needs "confirmation of the threat" to take cover then we better accept this aspect of human nature.  Social scientists have preached "confirmation" (that people must confirm the threat for themselves before they will take shelter) to us over and over but weather science have often been slow to accept this "iron law" of human behavior when tornadoes threaten.

As I see it, regardless of how the warning is first received (TV, NOAA Weather Radio, my "tornado alarm," or a siren), we probably need to modify our tornado safety advice to something like this:
  1. Have a way to receive the warning (NOAA Weather Radio, "tornado alarm," siren, etc.).
  2. If a tornado warning is issued, quickly turn on the television for more information. Do not go outdoors to look for the storm; you may put yourself in even greater danger or you may not recognize the tornado.
  3. Take shelter immediately. Talk with friends or relatives only when safely in shelter. 
Meteorologists and emergency managers can continue the futility of delivering "take cover when you get a tornado warning!" message but I believe we will save more lives by working with human nature rather than against it. 
The second item is for meteorologists: Throughout my career, I've heard meteorologists boast they "knew 'it' going to happen" ('it' being a serious storm) -- even if they didn't publicly act on it. This traces back to the fact that most (of course, not all) meteorologists have an intrinsic motivation system. Dan's point #6 refers to this. The usual excuse for not "going public" is, "what if I was wrong?" I'd reply: they don't need us when it is "sunny and 72," they need us when a major storm threatens.

Forecaster training needs to change.

University forecast training (at many schools, probably a lost cause) is too often geared to interpreting computer models, we must find a way to train meteorologists after graduation to disregard the computer when it is wrong and to be confident enough in their convictions to "go public" when a dangerous weather situation presents itself.

Note: I believe this posting and the tornado alarm posting below are sufficiently important (it is the start of tornado season and more tornadoes are possible next week) that there will not be a posting tomorrow. If you haven't already, please read my "tornado alarm" suggestion in the posting below.

(c) Copyright 2020, Mike Smith Enterprises, LLC


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