Skywarn 6 Storm Week 2012: Ignoring Warnings

The severe storm season is knocking on Texoma's door, but decades have passed since our last major weather tragedy. In today's age of instant information younger generations can often overlook serious weather threats.
In a Newschannel 6 special report Ignoring Warnings, Newschannel 6 went straight to the heart of disaster to show us devastation can happen anywhere, anytime.

Most people who know the terror of April 10, 1979 first hand are over 40 years old. Wichita Falls resident David McMillan was just 28 years old when he left the safety of his home near Old High. He took shelter in his parents home on Neta Lane, which was in the tornado's path.

"It looked like the Jolly Green Giant walked across the land," said McMillan. "Stuff was just flat."

Wichitans who have been born since Terrible Tuesday are old enough to be homeowners and have children. In the 32 years since that tragic day in April, we've had no large scale weather tragedies where many lives were lost. Is it possible that many residents have taken on a "it never happens here" attitude?
Through the years I've talked to many Texomans who are under the impression that there is some kind of "bubble" that surrounds their town causing thunderstorms to split, fall apart or go around.

Rick Smith, from the National Weather Service in Norman agrees the odds of your life being affected by a tornado are slim.

"The chances of your home being directly hit by a tornado are very small, but they're not zero," said Smith.

A recent National Weather Service study of residents in the southern plains showed that tornado warnings were often ignored by those in the effected area.

But take Joplin, Missouri where a single tornado on a Sunday afternoon in 2011 killed 158 people and destroyed more than a quarter of the city. It was the deadliest tornado in more than 60 years.

"We are living evidence of the fact that it can happen here. EF5 tornadoes are less than one percent of all tornadoes that happen and we had one come right though our down town neighborhood." said Keith Stammer Joplin Emergency Management Director.

Missouri television forecasters were talking about the risk of severe weather in southwest Missouri 2 days before the tragedy. A Tornado Watch was issued at 1:30 that afternoon, 3 hours before violent weather began threatening the city of Joplin. Over an hour prior to the city being changed forever, Tornado Warnings were issued for the adjacent county to the west. The first Tornado Warning that included the city of Joplin occurred 25 minutes before the tornado entered into the city. A second, more urgent Tornado Warning was issued when it became clear that the massive tornado would enter the heart of the city.
Keith Stammer said there no excuse for being caught off guard by violent weather.
"We highly recommend weather radios where you can hear the broadcast from the National Weather Service, tuning into television stations, such as your station, is an excellent source of information," Stammer said. "We've noted that a lot of people have gone to the Internet. Those are all fine for trying to understand what's going on. The thing to remember is that when the warning goes out, be it by siren, or by email, by texting or by radio, its time to stop trying to figure out what's going on. Its time to go hide."

Rick Smith said its doesn't take much time to come up with an effective plan.
"Its not a big deal to be prepared for a tornado and to know what to do if one happens."

David MacMillan was refreshingly honest about what he does when a tornado warning is issued. "I basically listen for the warning, figure out the direction, where its coming from, and then go outside and look at the clouds, see if I can see rotation. I know what it looks like," said McMillan.

Going outside can be dangerous because even distant tornadoes can send flying debris in your direction. The best thing to do is take shelter.
There are a few simple things to keep in mind when taking proper shelter.

"Below ground beats above ground, first floor beats upper floors, interior room, multiple walls between you and the exterior still seems to be the most effective method," says Keith Stammer, Joplin's Emergency Management Director.

The technology and knowledge available to today's meteorologist is better than ever. That, combined with the eagle eye of trained spotters makes Tornado Warnings very precise and very much worth paying attention to.

"We take tornado warnings very seriously," said NWS Meteorologist Rick Smith. "We're typically very conservative in issuing those warnings. So, if you hear a Tornado Warning for your county, you should treat very seriously."

Newschannel 6 takes severe weather very seriously. The Skywarn 6 Storm Team is constantly tracking Live 3D Vision Radar to keep you safe. When there is a threat we will alert you as soon as warnings are issued on Newschannel 6, here at Newschannel 6 and our Newschannel 6 Facebook page.

John Cameron, Storm Team Forecaster