Sheltering Behavior during 2 Major Tornadoes in 2013: Is More “Lead Time” Better?

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Tuesday, 4 February 2014: 9:30 AM
Room C107 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Gabriel S. Garfield, CIMMS/Univ. of Oklahoma, Norman, OK; and R. Smith

During the spring of 2013, several large and powerful tornadoes impacted central Oklahoma, including a devastating EF-5 tornado at Moore on 20 May and an exceptionally wide tornado at El Reno on 31 May. The analyses presented herein are intended to provide important documentation related to the unusual societal response during these events. While the literature is replete with meteorological reviews of major tornadoes, the atypical public reaction during these events has not been previously documented.

In particular, we investigate the occurrence of substantial traffic jams in the greater Oklahoma City metropolitan area during these episodes; in the midst of the latter incident, thousands of cars were immobilized in the path of an approaching tornado. Additionally, we address the difficulty in communicating nuanced safety information when multiple threats are presented – i.e., hail, wind, tornadoes, and flooding. Using damage surveys, Doppler radar, traffic numbers, and first-hand accounts, we demonstrate the need for better communication of weather information during severe weather events. In particular, we note that – even as “lead time” increases – the non-linear nature of public response may not allow for a monotonic reduction in tornado fatalities (in the absence of communications research). With the advent of warning-improvement programs like “Warn-on-Forecast”, it will become necessary to understand the relationship between weather communication and public response.