386 Real Time Communication Challenges of the April 29th Canton, Texas Area Tornado Outbreak

Monday, 8 January 2018
Exhibit Hall 3 (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Mark Fox, NOAA/NWSFO, Fort Worth, TX; and T. M. Ryan

During the afternoon and evening of April 29, 2017, a total of seven tornadoes occurred over a relatively small area in East Texas. Van Zandt County suffered damage from six of the tornadoes, including three near or in the city of Canton. EF-4 damage occurred just southwest of Canton, while a second tornado produced EF-3 damage on the northeast side of the city. A third tornado produced EF-0 damage on the east side of Canton. All impacts occurred in less than one hour.

This spate of tornadoes occurred within a previously non-descript mesoscale environment that rapidly became favorable for supercell thunderstorms and tornadogenesis. The evolution of this environment and the subsequent supercells posed challenges for Weather Forecast Office (WFO) Fort Worth. At the same time, a new operational construct implemented at the WFO enabled the staff to dynamically allocate resources and adjust analysis and decision support roles as the event unfolded.

The compact spatial and temporal nature of the tornadoes created multiple challenges in communicating their impacts. As the tornadoes moved north, they affected generally the same highways and local landmarks, albeit in slightly different areas. Canton itself, as the biggest landmark, was referenced multiple times as the tornadoes passed in and near the city.

In addition to the usual tactical warnings and statements, WFO Fort Worth relied on nearly a constant flow of information from the National Weather Service Chat (NWSChat) and social media as the event unfolded. The use of the NWSChat allowed for multiple, short bursts of detailed information in real time to allow emergency management officials and broadcast media members to relay the latest information on the location of the storms.

After the event and during the damage surveys, numerous survivor stories were heard and documented. The stories were similar in nature, focused on the constant communication from the entire integrated warning team. Messages from the National Weather Service, local emergency management, and broadcast media helped numerous people in the path of the tornadoes to take appropriate action to save their lives.

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