photo courtesy of James Thew/Fotolia
This year marks the 50th anniversary of “The Longest Night,” when in May of 1965 six funnel clouds touched down in the Twin Cities, killing 13 people and injuring more than 680. Minnesota Public Radio meteorologist Paul Huttner, who was 4 at the time, remembers hiding in the basement as the sky above turned “swirling and green.” Since then we’ve learned a good deal about tornado response and forecasting, and what to keep in mind during peak tornado season.
1. Broadcast meteorology saves lives. 1965 was the first time Twin Cities news stations broadcast continuous live coverage of severe weather. “It demonstrated that effective severe weather coverage saves lives and property, and that effective communication is every bit as important as effective forecasting,” says Huttner.
2. Warning sirens do, too. 1965 was also the first time Minnesota’s civil defense sirens were activated for weather. Today, though, it’s a patchwork—policies for when they’re activated lack statewide uniformity. To get on the same page, emergency experts are pushing a new policy they hope will cut confusion and “siren fatigue” when sirens are activated too often.
3. Radar is getting even better. “We can now see rotation within storms,” Huttner says. “The software and the resolution of the radar allow us to pinpoint mesocyclones—wall clouds that are more likely to produce tornadoes.”
4. Beware the Joplin Effect. A devastating 2011 tornado in Joplin, MO, illustrates the need to better educate people about weather warnings. “People saw the warnings on TV, they heard it on the radio, somebody called them, they had a cellphone app, a siren went off—and sometimes they ignored three, four, five, even six warning signals before they took action.”
5. It can happen again. “We may be overdue for another major tornado outbreak in the Twin Cities,” says Huttner, who recommends staying current on severe weather warnings by adding cellphone apps and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio to the media mix