Yesterday I was honored to be a part of the Footprints of Disaster Symposium at the University of Alabama. Experts and officials from the University of Alabama, Mississippi State University, Auburn University, and the city of Tuscaloosa were on-hand to talk about topics related to 27 April 2011.
Dr. David Brommer was the first speaker and he discussed all of the ingredients that triggered the tornado outbreak. One of the key points from his presentation was that these outbreaks do happen and they will happen again in Alabama. While they may be very rare, a similar tornado outbreak could happen in the future. He also described the rarity of the Storm Prediction Centers moderate to high severe weather outlooks. “These risks should be taken very seriously,” says Brommer, “and for those areas underneath moderate or high risks, advanced planning must take place.”
Dr. Kathy Sherman-Morris from MSU talked the Smithville, MS area where an EF-5 touched down. She discussed a survey in which some respondents relied on outdoor warning sirens. These sirens are intended for outdoor warnings and not indoor warnings. In addition, a troubling one-third of the respondents went outside to look for the tornado before taking action. The NOAA Weather Radio frequency is your number one source for receiving indoor warnings. The Smithville, MS storm later produced the EF-5 in Hackleburg, AL.
Dr. Jason Senkbeil talked about situational awareness and how most storm survivors he surveyed were aware of the severe weather threat. He also talked about safe shelters and how we must ramp up the process of developing rooms or underground shelters that can withstand nature’s most violent winds. He described how a 15-20 minute lead time may allow you to evacuate a mobile home park and move out of the tornadoes path. He also touched on the tornado rating and made a great point about the EF-4 rating being a categorical rating. He described cases in which the Tuscaloosa tornado was nearing the EF-5 level in some spots.
Dr. Phil Chaney from Auburn University, elaborated on mobile homes and how 52% of tornado fatalities between 1985 and 2005 were from people being inside mobile homes. Another alarming figure was that 42% of people living inside mobile homes felt as though a tornado could not destroy their home. This is a figure we must change as mobile homes cannot withstand the violent winds associated with a large tornado.
Other presenters included Dr. Louhen Han from UA who shared some incredible satellite images of the tornado damage swaths in combinations with radar imagery. John McConnell with city planning and Discovering Alabama’s Dr. Doug Phillips concluded the meeting.
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