Timely warnings likely saved lives in weekend's spate of Midwest tornadoes
More than 100 tornadoes were reported in just 24 hours in the Midwest over the weekend, destroying homes and taking the lives of at least six people -- all in Woodward, Okla. However, new, stronger and more advanced warnings from the National Weather Service may have limited the death toll.
Some 100 tornadoes were reported in just 24 hours over the weekend across the Midwest United States.
Though damage was devastating to vehicles and homes, only six deaths, all in Woodward, Okla., were reported.
"It was a widespread debris field, as we flew over it," Mary Fallin, the governor of Oklahoma, said of the damage. "Certainly, as we walked to see the roofs taken off homes. Homes that had exploded. We saw, certainly, a trailer home that was totally lost and gone."
However, Michael Kimball, a reporter with The Oklahoman, said residents had plenty of advance notice from meteorologists — and that may have saved lives.
"The officials really deserve a lot of credit for this. First of all, in Oklahoma, especially when it comes to tornadoes, we really have some of the best meteorologists in the world. It's what they specialize in here. They know when they're coming, and in this particular case, as you said, the people knew days in advance that Saturday was going to be a bad day.
Kimball said it is important for people to have a plan for tornadoes.
"That's what they stressed. They stressed that you just need to have a plan. The tornadoes are going to be here. We don't know exactly where. We know that it's going to be in this part of the country, and wherever you are, you're going to need to have a plan for how to be safe if a tornado comes," Kimball said. "Coordinated warning systems throughout counties and throughout different parts of the state really played a role in making sure, for the most part, that people were aware when sever weather was headed their way."
Experts suggest gathering in the lowest level of your home, whether it is a basement, storm cellar or otherwise, and avoiding windows when a tornado approaches. Part of the problem in Woodward may have been a communication failure that disabled the town's outdoor warning sirens as the storms approached.
"There were some lightning strikes and tornadoes that affected the sirens that sound when a tornado is imminent, but everyone that I talked to had been aware that storms were going to affect the area that day," Kimball said. "So even though some other storms had passed over Woodward earlier Saturday evening without much effect, people went to bed Saturday with one eye open, and they had storm radios on."
Kimball referred to the deaths in Woodward as tragic but suggested advance warnings may have saved many lives.
"When you see the kind of devastation that affected Woodward, with neighborhoods destroyed, houses just utterly wiped off the face of the map, in a way, it's pretty surprising that it was only five and a real testament to the early warning officials were able to get out this time," Kimball said before officials announced a sixth person had died.
Though much of the focus has been on the devastation storms made in Oklahoma over the weekend, most of the tornadoes occurred in Kansas. The Wichita Eagle reported that nearly 100 tornadoes were reported in Kansas alone.
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