I’m appalled at the loss of life–the death toll stands near 300 as I write this–in this week’s devastating tornado swarm.  The meteorological killing fields extended from the Deep South into Virginia.  The number of twisters and dead rivals those of the great Super Outbreak of April 1974.  In fact, to find tornado fatality lists that are substantially longer than those of this week and of 1974, you’d have to go back prior to World War II.

The question that comes to me then is why, in this day and age with all of its tools and technology, should so many have perished?

In 1974 there were no Doppler radars, no Weather Channel, no Facebook, no Twitter, no cell phones.  There was nothing close to the detection, analysis and communication capabilities that today’s storm warning community has.  It’s tragically understandable that over 300 lives were loss in the Super Outbreak.  But in 2011?

Certainly the Storm Prediction Center and Dr. Greg Forbes at The Weather Channel (my former employer) did their jobs in issuing alerts well before the dangerous days of this week unfolded.

And yet… so many lives.

Maybe it was just the nature of the event.  Some of the twisters spun up to EF-5 intensity.  So in those instances there was no place to run, no place to hide.  Virtually nothing will survive an EF-5 monster above ground.

So that’s one option: this was an extreme weather event that was just a flat-out killer.

But I wonder, were there cases where the warnings were late, where sirens failed, or where people were just oblivious to the threat (hard to believe in this day and age of instant communications)?  Were there individuals who didn’t know what to do once a warning was issued?  Did some panic?

I’m not pointing fingers.  I don’t know.  But we ought to find out.  So I’m posing some questions.  Again, maybe the extreme death toll was unavoidable. Yet as I said, I’m appalled at the loss of life in this Doppler- and instant communications-age.  My gut tells me that the number of fatalities shouldn’t have been close to those of over 35 years ago.

What do you think?


  1. Tom Moore on April 29, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    I think that there was a little bit of (all of the above) as reasons…… But these tornadoes were very strong and moving 60-70 mph… almost unheard of in this part of the world…. I think that some %age of deaths could have been avoided… but I'm not so sure that if was a significant % age… Sometimes, nature just overwhelms us … Couldn't imagine if any of these tornadoes had cut into metro Atlanta !!

  2. Elizabeth on May 4, 2011 at 11:55 am

    I am in South Cullman and can tell you that if I lived 1/4 mile north my house would have been destroyed.
    We have one of the best meteorologists that live a Mr James Spann who had been preaching if not pleading for at
    Least a week prior to this event that we all find and seek shelter as this would be “historical” and it would not be if a
    tornado his but when.

    Yes , there are people who didn’t take this seriously and I have my own assumptions as why.
    One is the fact the storms were predicted and did show up on radar at 2-3 pm . However around 3-5am power had been knocked out due to a line of storms and damage occurred and people assumed the timing was off. Schools even debated delays and other non sense despite warnings.
    Sirens which people in bigger cities depended on were knocked offline.

    Another thing to consider is the fact of lack of basements or saferooms for the masses. But even that was no guarantee for this horrific storm . People who stayed in a bathtub survived while mothers and children are crushed underneath rubble in their basement safe room.

    I myself do not want to trust my life to just my basement anymore after the incredible amount of documentation of this storms abilities at making even that deadly. How much concrete and steel do I need to surround myself to be safe from an EF 5 event . And just because I have the luxury of building
    My own personal tornado fortress does not mean that I will be around it or even in the same town when another event should occur.

    What people did not realize was this thing was a human blender. That if you were out in it your chance of survival was minimal at best. I honestly think mandates for community shelters at colleges , dorms , apartment complexes and the like should be made. Will they? I don’t think so. Until such an impoverished part of the country is protected. More death will be the norm as people rebuild live in apartments or temporary housing and have no place to go once again. As I hope this will be the worst I see in my lifetime… I can say it will get worse before it gets better and the volatile
    Nature of our atmosphere will continue on this path.

  3. Buzz on May 5, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Elizabeth–thanks for your views; I hadn't heard about the power being knocked out prior to the storms. And yes, although I don't know him personally, I've heard that James Spann is one of the best in the business.

  4. Laya on May 30, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    How many people were killed while taking shelter inside their homes, in the recommended lowest level, interior room with no windows. When a tornado destroys an entire house, that doesn't do much good. Would it be unreasonable, with all of the existing building codes, to require that some sort of reinforced tornado shelter be provided for every residence in Tornado Alley? Including ,that is, community shelters for apartment complexes and trailer parks?

  5. Buzz on May 30, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    Not a bad idea from a safety standpoint, Laya, but the long pole in the tent is probably economic–that is, the cost of requiring shelters vs. the frequency of devastating tornadoes. On the other hand, what's the value of a human life? I'm afraid you'll have to seek the answer to your question from a higher pay grade than mine.

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