J6.2 Enhanced decision support and information services from NWS Forecast Offices—The example of the May 10, 2010 Oklahoma tornado outbreak

Monday, 24 January 2011: 1:45 PM
604 (Washington State Convention Center)
Richard Smith, NOAA/NWS, Norman, OK

Strategic planning within the National Weather Service focuses on enhancing decision support services over the next several years. The intent of these services is to focus all groups of users on the potential impacts from hazardous weather events and to help those users make informed decisions to deal with the threat. Some of those enhanced information services that could be implemented are explored in the context of a significant tornado outbreak.

On May 10, 2010 an outbreak of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes impacted much of Oklahoma. More than 50 tornadoes were reported in a six hour period, including two EF4 tornadoes and several long-track tornadoes. Three people were killed and at least 300 were injured, and with hundreds of structures damaged or destroyed, damage estimates exceeded half a billion dollars. While tornadoes are not unusual in Oklahoma, a combination of factors – rush hour tornadoes moving 50 to 60 mph threatening densely populated areas – made these storms unusually dangerous.

Information about the impending event flowed continuously from the NWS Norman Forecast Office in the days, hours and minutes leading up to the tornadoes. As the potential for dangerous tornadoes became more focused in the hours preceding the first storm, so did the WFO's message, with an emphasis on the combination of factors coming together to make this event unusually dangerous. In addition to the traditional outlooks, watches and warnings, forecasters employed new and innovative strategies for spreading the word, increasing awareness and encouraging action. The effectiveness of these information services is reflected in the relative low number of casualties.

This review will highlight WFO Norman's enhanced information services leading up to the tornado outbreak.

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