Good afternoon, Netizens…
Having watched the news regarding the F4 tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri, and given the number of times I have chased tornadoes through Tornado Alley, my heart is heavy with sorrow for those who died or were injured during this record-breaking multi-cyclonic storm. Unfortunately, storm chasers never truly had an opportunity with this storm as most storm chasers with any brains to back up their nerves of steel would never chase funnel clouds in the dark, which is when the storm reached its peak.
It would be redundant of me to cite Joplin's statistics, as the national news media have already smothered our senses with news overload regarding a city in Missouri some of us may have never seen. Suffice it to say people in Joplin are living in a chainlike web of sorrow and pain tonight, and it is not over by a long shot, as they are currently under a tornado and severe thunderstorm warning once again.
However, it stands to reason there are some lessons which Spokane could learn in the aftermath of such a horrific storm, despite the fact Spokane only rarely has tornadoes, and as far as I can tell, has never seen an F4 storm.
First, do we even have emergency sirens? Granted, we probably do not have enough danger of tornadoes to mandate having workable sirens mounted throughout the city. However, such devices could easily be part of a more generic set of warnings. Perhaps we could even sound the sirens to let the public know of unforeseen hazards, such as train wrecks or other dangerous situations. If nothing else, using city-wide sirens as a storm warning might buy unknowing citizens of pending hazardous weather by encouraging people to turn on their radios and televisions for the latest news updates and thus to take immediate shelter.
Awareness of weather threats should be taught early to our students in the hopes they will always be aware of dangerous weather. I will never forget the day about ten years ago a tornado manifested itself in North Spokane while I was sitting in a former Denny's Restaurant. The funnel appeared to be making a bee line for the restaurant, and to my utter chagrin, most of the restaurant staff and patrons eagerly ran to the windows to get a better look. It was fortuitous that the storm went back aloft, for had it not done so, the statistics could have been terrible. Education and awareness is everything.
Duck and cover is not dead yet. In the Midwest, throughout most of Tornado Alley, students are still taught the old-fashioned “duck and cover” drill, a hallmark of the Cold War Days when we lived in fear of an atomic bomb. In Spokane we only average three or four tornadoes per year, and only a few of them ever achieve even an F2 category. Still, having school children aware of duck and cover might make the difference between life and death should a tornado strike.
These are just a few things, idle speculation on my part, that we could stand to learn from the meteorological depravity that hit Tornado Alley in the last few weeks. Of course, your results and opinions may differ.