J15.3 The Huntsville, Alabama Tornado of 1989 Revisited: An In-Depth Look at Communications, Technology, and Societal Impacts

Wednesday, 26 January 2011: 2:00 PM
618-620 (Washington State Convention Center)
Kristin N. Scotten, NOAA/NWS, Amarillo, TX; and J. L. Lee

Huntsville, Alabama is somewhat far removed from the traditional Tornado Alley of the Central and Southern Plains. However, recent studies indicate that residents of the lower Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi River Valleys are particularly vulnerable to deadly tornadoes. North Alabama, including the city of Huntsville, has seen multiple strong to violent tornadoes over the past few decades including the infamous 15 November 1989 F4 tornado which tracked across south Huntsville at the beginning of the evening rush hour with little to no advance warning. There were a total of 21 fatalities and 463 injuries during this event.

The decisions made by the National Weather Service, the emergency management community, and other first responders during this tornadic event would forever alter local decision support services and emergency action plans. The lessons learned from this event, along with improvements in communication, infrastructure, and technology, have better prepared the Huntsville community for future potential events. A further investigation into these improvements, lessons learned, and the overarching societal impacts of the event has been conducted. It is the hope that the results from this research will enhance future NWS decision support services, leading to improved public awareness and reaction to such life-threatening weather events.

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