Sunday, December 02, 2007

Lessons Learned From Enterprsie Tornado

The Enterprise tornado was a massive tornado that struck Southern Alabama this past March. Although I was in Arkansas, I was paying very close attention to the storm. I was watching Rich Thomas and Rob Hatchell through our internal Raycom Media video server. I was analyzing the storm with radar (Gibson Ridge, for you weather folks) and was trembling while I watched what was unfolding. The reports of the High School started coming in... and the news was devastating.

In less than 48 hours, I was at Enterprise High School. The school that I once remembered was demolished. WSFA News Operations Manager, Jeff Harrison, and I drove around the property. He showed me things that were odd, amazing, and unbelievable. I remembered back to football games at EHS... The field was surrounded by pine trees back then... After the tornado, there were no trees. As a former resident of South Alabama, I was saddened at the site. Eight people died in that High School. I stayed in town for a few days working on "Today In Alabama" while Rob got some rest. While the reason I returned was horrible, it was good to see many of my old friends in Alabama.

As mentioned in a previous post, The NWS has released their final report. If you missed it, you can read it here. There are SEVERAL things that we learned in that report. I'll mention a few of those things...

First off, IEM chat service between the Media and the National Weather Service should be mandatory. At KAIT and WSFA, the IEM chat service is on throughout a severe weather event. It is a constant flow of communication between the National Weather Service and the Media. When I worked in Alabama, the Birmingham NWS was AWESOME with IEM chat. When I returned to Arkansas, neither Little Rock or Memphis NWS used IEM chat. I am happy to say that both offices are using it today! This is a GREAT tool that helps to save lives and All Media, All NWS offices, and ALL EMS offices should be on IEM chat in severe weather events... period.

This brings me to my second topic. In this report, it talks about the lack of warnings being aired on the local radio stations in AL and GA. Here in NE Arkansas, we do not have that problem. Triple FM radio is constantly on IEM chat as well and Trey Stafford and I are always tracking the storms together. It's a great partnership that helps save lives. I will guarantee you that if a tornado warning is issued in NE Arkansas, you will hear about it on KAIT and your Triple FM radio stations!

It's a partnership that we hope to spread across the country. Trey Stafford, Jim Cantore from the Weather Channel, and I are going to be speaking at a radio conference in Nashville. We hope to encourage many radio stations to ramp up their severe weather coverage. To read more on these efforts, click here. Trey has been working very hard on this project and I honored to help him in this movement next Spring. I'll keep you posted on the progress.

I have talked enough for now...I'm going to go hang out with my family.

Take care, Ryan


Jason H said...

Jim Cantore is the man. He is my third favorite meteorogist...behind you and Sarah of course.:-)

Heidi said...

I read the event report today. You gave a good summary of the points, so I don't think I really have anything to add in that sense.

On the media/NWS communication end things, I will say that things don't always run as smoothly out here in the ruralist reaches of the land as they do in the Jonesboro area. For starters, the majority of people with satellite TV do not have the "local channels" option, even for the extra charge, so a lot people don't even have KAIT available to them unless they also have a TV set up with rabbit ears. Most of the people we know do go the route of using rabbit ears, but some do not. I always hope those people have a radio on at all times during a severe vent, but that brings me to the next issue: Not every radio station in this area (lets say west of the Black River)is good with announcing watches and/or warnings. There is a station in southern MO that we can pick up that does a good job with that, whose DJs are skilled with interpreting radar and can tell their audience what is happening. Some other stations are frankly just unreliable, don't even always announce watches and switch to auto-pilot at 10:00 at night.

Not to go on too long, but as another example of what this kind of communication breakdown can mean: Back in 1996 there was a deadly F-4 tornado that traveled something like 40 miles across Stone & Izard Co. This is certainly the most rural part of the KAIT viewing area. During that event, John Lewis of the NWS Little Rock office personally made a phone call to the Izard Co. sherrif's office to make sure the town of Melbourne was given enough lead time with warning sirens for people to get to shelter. This was a necessary step back then due to communication barriers. It's scary to say, but I feel that things have not changed that much between now and then, and that it would still be a necessary step for someone from NWS or another "official" to take, simply because of how cut-off from the rest of society many of these small Ozark towns are. In this case, Melbourne ended up with heavy damage on one side of town, and the sherrif's dept. directly credited Mr. Lewis's phone call to preventing loss of life in that incident. Here's a link to that story:

I would be nice if everyone would just get the darn rabbit ears & watch Ryan & the gang. It would make things easier on everyone! :D