November 28, 2023
Staying vigilant and prepared is key.
Too often when it comes to storms people say, "it'll go around us, they always do."
Midland Meteorologist, Bruce Jones shares stories of dangerous stories from across the country.
Just before 5:00pm on May 25, 2008 an enormous tornado tore through Parkersburg, Iowa, the first maximum strength EF-5 tornado to strike the state in forty years. Seven Parkersburg residents lost their lives as the ¾ mile-wide beast leveled the southern third of town.
EF5 tornado approaching Parkersburg. Photo courtesy: Rod Donavon
To achieve EF-5 status, a tornado must be so destructive that bare concrete foundations are the only remnants of some homes and businesses.
The Parkersburg tornado achieved that and more. The official National Weather Service storm damage survey noted fields of debris that had been pulverized into tiny fragments, an indication of the force of the twister’s 200+ mph winds.
Parkersburg debris field with quarter dollar for comparison. Photo courtesy of National Weather Service
The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for Parkersburg 34 minutes before the twister entered the city limits. That’s half-an-hour of lead time, and many people used that time to their advantage.
On the one-year anniversary of the storm Jones was in Parkersburg talking with a volunteer firefighter who had lost his father in the tornado. He told Jones how he phoned his dad, told him Parkersburg was under a tornado warning, and implored him to take cover. Tearfully he recalled his father’s final words, “It’ll go around us. They always do.”
None of us likes to think about the unthinkable. And most of us have survived, and will survive, severe weather warnings that are pretty common every spring in Tornado Alley.
Mathematical odds dictate the tornado probably WILL miss you. But there is also a very dangerous bias at work. Watching the news over the course of your life, you see reports of a tornado ten miles to your north, fifty miles to your south, two-hundred miles west.
The headlines are scary, but the storms are not, because they missed you. After years of hearing about such misses, you get the impression your town is safe, protected by something. Things go around. They always do. This is an extremely common mindset, but it’s as dangerous as can be. Imagine thinking the same thing when you’re standing on the yellow line in the middle of a highway. Will cars ALWAYS go around you? What if the next one doesn’t?
Wherever you live, the odds of disaster striking you are very, very small; as small as the odds of a burglary or a car crash.
We all lock our doors at night, we all wear our seatbelts when we drive, and we don’t stand in the middle of any road.
To be part of a Weather-Ready Nation you’ll experience lots of false alarms when predicted threats don’t evolve, or they miss you completely. Getting missed is normal, but use those false alarms like your fire drills in grade school…a chance to practice; so when the real thing happens, your life-saving actions will be second nature. A false alarm is an inconvenience, a missed alarm can be a family tragedy.