J4.1 The Challenges of Communicating Multiple Hazards, The Deadly May 31st 2013 Oklahoma City Flash Flood

Thursday, 11 June 2015: 3:30 PM
304 (Raleigh Convention Center)
Jonathan Kurtz, NOAA/NWSFO, Norman, OK; and K. Brown, S. Kruckenberg, R. Smith, and J. Henderson

The meteorology behind the severe weather events of 31 May 2013, specifically the El Reno tornado, has been researched and discussed at length over the past two years. Seemingly lost within this event, however, has been the historic flash flooding that impacted the Oklahoma City metro area through the evening and overnight hours of 31 May. With near record amounts of rainfall, extreme flash flooding occurred and resulted in 13 fatalities (compared with eight tornado deaths), making it the deadliest flash flood event in Oklahoma City history.

One way of framing the emphasis on tornadoes over flash flooding is to consider the cultural value placed on certain weather events. Sharknado, storm chasers, apocalyptic visions of our future--tornadoes get a lot of play in movies, images, and the media in general. Floods, on the other hand, largely appear only when they reach certain thresholds for damage or lives lost, as with the 2013 Colorado flood. Likewise, what we emphasize as a community in the warning process shapes public perceptions and beliefs about what kind of weather is dangerous, beautiful, notable, and worth preparing for. That is, tornadoes outweigh floods in our own research. So perhaps it is no surprise that throughout the course of the event on May 31, communication of the tornado continually overshadowed that of flash flooding, both as the event developed and persisted. In response, it was discovered that 12 of the 13 flash flooding fatalities were the direct result of individuals sheltering from the perceived tornado threat in concrete drainage culverts, unaware of the flash flooding threat. The intent of this presentation is to discuss the societal response and promote a discussion on how the NWS and its partners can better prepare the communities they serve and improve risk communication when faced with a multiple hazard event.

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