Improved Tornado Warnings Saved Lives: Recommended Reading

Apr 17, 2012, 5:30 PM, Posted by

Earlier and more dire warnings may have helped save many lives during the hundred-plus tornadoes that hit the Midwest this weekend, according to a story in yesterday's New York Times [subscription required]. In the article, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says that previously, tornado warnings would come just hours before, while this time urgent warnings—"extremely dangerous," "catastrophic weather," "life-threatening"—came almost two days in advance of the tornadoes. Galvanized by the many tornado-related deaths in recent years, the National Weather Service announced late last week that it is testing “call to action” language over the next six months and then will decide whether to continue or expand the more dire warnings. "This is a life-threatening situation. You could be killed if not underground or in a tornado shelter," was a message tested in Wichita this past weekend, according to the article.

Getting citizens to prepare for emergencies and to take cover during life-threatening weather is an effort underway in many states. Melissa Friel, Director of the Center for Emergency Response and Terrorism at the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, a recovery leader for the devastating tornadoes that hit Joplin, Missouri last May, talked about the need to ratchet up tornado warnings to protect many more lives. “I think one thing we’re looking at is how you can make people aware that, yes, this tornado is coming, and it’s not just another set of warning sirens," said Friel in an interview with NewPublicHealth earlier this year. Read the full interview.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.