I have looked at a lot of post tornado photos lately. I decided to put the Ruskin stuff I have in an album on Facebook, and so posted 40 something images there. (Linked here if you'd like to see.) Then a tornado as big or bigger (and from the looks of things, I'd say this monster was wider than the 1957 twister) hits Joplin, and now I am looking at eerily familiar images again.
That day, Sunday, it was well known that conditions were favorable for the formation of strong storms that could be tornadic. I remember looking at radar around 2 pm and noting a line of severe storms that blew up starting in eastern Jackson County and lining up to the northeast. The line was building south and moving SSE. It was this line, extended south, that produced the tornado that hit Joplin, as well as a smaller twister near Higginsville.
For the emergency managers and the people at the National Weather Service, the question is whether and when to put out warnings for a given area. For us, the population at large, the question is what shall we do in response to the warnings if they appear. Most sources are saying that Joplin had a 20 minute notice or so that there was a tornado on the ground in their area. That is not enough time to move very far to shelter, but it is enough time to find shelter in the general area you are in. The general consensus of experts is that tornadoes move too fast and too unpredictably to give a long lead time that would give enough time to evacuate and move out of the way of a storm. The usual counsel is to shelter where you are. Some hospital people are saying they had about five minutes notice. My guess is that they had five minutes between the time they decided this was the real deal and the time the tornado hit.
A balance has to be kept. People need warning so they can take the action they can. Warning without hazard makes people lackadaisical in their preparation and action. No warning, or late warning in the face of hazard creates unprepared people, and perhaps casualties that could have been avoided. Generally, warnings are issued erring on the side of safety. People need to help out what the NWS and emergency managers do by having an awareness of the world around them, both in terms of being in touch with media and in looking out the dadgum window every so often.
Photos--tornado clean up, separated by 54 years--both from the Kansas City Star.