Like any other good weather geek with a layer of emergency services interest I have been watching the videos and reading the reports about the tornadoes in the southeast. Presently we have reports of over 300 dead with billions of dollars in damage to the areas afflicted in Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. The pictures remind me of the photos I have seen of the damage after the great tornado that hit Ruskin Heights in 1957. Nothing left but stripped trees, flipped cars, piles of broken wood and empty foundations.
I posted a question on weather guru Gary Lezak's FB page wondering if the death toll in the Carolina storms/tornadoes earlier this month were unusual. He replied that it was most likely due to strong storms hitting a populated place. I still have some questions if the numbers of deaths from these latest storms had to be as high as it was, especially for a well forecasted storm and one funnel that was on the ground for miles and miles. Again I thought of the Ruskin tornado in 1957. That moved on the ground north and east from Stanley, KS to Ruskin Heights not lifting until about Nolan Road and Blue Parkway. With warning, NO ONE is in the gym at the high school, thus reducing the death toll by at least one. I hope that the folks in these southeast states don't just shrug their shoulders and say, "Well, strong storm." and take the time to make sure warnings were propagated and to what degree they were heard and heeded. However, many of these F4 and F5 tornadoes were 1/2 to 1 mile wide, thus making it hard to get away. It still would be worthwhile to check how the emergency was handled, and see if anything can be improved. Not to fix blame, or look for a scapegoat, but to open things up to honest assessment and problem solving to make sure everything is at the highest level for responding to tornadoes (which are NOT unknown in these areas--they just usually aren't that big and don't usually stay on the ground that long.)
Also blogger Meesha wrote a good post wondering about the strength of newer construction. Just as communities prone to hurricanes and earthquakes have specs for construction, perhaps it would be appropriate for a few guidelines for construction in tornado zones. I think he has an excellent point. For example, if construction of a "safe room" was done at initial build, it would cost a lot less than retrofitting an existing structure.
In the meantime, plan ahead and pay attention when the weather is hinky. I do not have a basement but I know which neighbors do, and I have spoken to almost all of them about taking shelter with them. My weakest point is notification at night--I need to acquire a weather radio that will collect the alert tones for my immediate area automatically and alert me to hazardous conditions. I also need to put together a "go bag" of items that are prepacked and I could just grab them in an emergency. Those are just a couple of examples of preplanning for a tornado emergency. It's not a bad idea. Meantime, we need to make sure our communities are completely prepared too.