Social Response

Joplin Social Response

Despite the tornado warning and outdoor siren activation many deaths resulted from the EF-5 (winds reaching speeds over 200 mph) that devastated the city of Joplin, Missouri in May 2011. A National Weather Service study on the Joplin tornado revealed the following:

  • A majority of residents did not immediately seek shelter when the tornado warnings were issued;
  • In order to take action and seek shelter, residents needed two to nine risk signals (ie: If a resident heard the sirens going off they would look at the sky, acquire information from their television, call a friend, and so on); and
  • The duration of time between the issued warning and the search for resident confirmation resulted in a higher risk of life loss.
After the tornado struck Joplin, Missouri in May 2011

What is the Future for Weather Warning Systems

How can the emergency management community limit the number of sources residents seek before taking action? One of the major reasons residents confirm awareness before taking action is current technologies have outdoor warning sirens and NOAA weather radios responding at the county level instead of community level.

The National Weather Service and local media have been able to issue storm polygons for the effected communities, however NOAA weather radios and outdoor warning sirens are not currently part of this package. These discrepancies in the system make residents weary when any of these mediums indicate a potential storm and they seek other sources to confirm they need to take action(s). Until all technologies reach the same levels it is imperative residents establish key resources and utilize them before severe weather moves into the area.

Each polygon corresponds to the area the storm is moving towards and/or through and not by its geographic restraints. The NWS in Wakefield, VA posted a large severe thunderstorm warning (yellow polygon) for the area that was affected by the storm. A much smaller area was impacted by a tornado warning (red polygon).

To fill one of the gaps, in May 2012, cell phone corporations began offering severe weather warnings to their customers. Alerts including certain types of National Weather Service Warnings, will be sent automatically to cell phones within areas where severe weather is occurring. However, to receive the messages you must have a cell phone that is capable of receiving them. Not all phones are currently supported but as new models of phones come on the market many will include the alerting capability. To find out if your phone is compatible with the service, contact your cell phone provider.

In addition to the actions of the cell phone corporations, residents can take advantage of smart phone and tablet applications available to them. Some applications that can provide weather information and/or alerts to them via their devices include (listed in alphabetical order):

  • iMapWeatherRadio ($9.99): iMap Weather Radio will send your device an alert if your device or saved locations fall inside a watch/warning box. Once alerted you can listen in to the same message sent to NOAA weather radios (Not available on Android);
  • My-Cast ($3.99): Delivers comprehensive yet intuitive weather information. There is no alerting capability with this application;
  • NOAA Hi-Def Radar ($1.99): Simple yet powerful for viewing real-time, animated weather radar images on an interactive map. There is no alerting capability with this application (Not available on Android);
  • NOAA Now: The latest news and emergency updates from NOAA. There is no alerting capability with this application;
  • NOAA Radio Free (Free): A weather radio application where you can listen in to the same message sent to NOAA weather radios. There is no alerting capability with this application (Not available on Android);
  • RadarScope ($9.99): A specialized display utility for weather enthusiasts and meteorologists that allows you to view  radar data along with tornado, severe thunderstorm, and flash flood warnings issued by the National Weather Service. There is no alerting capability with this application;
  • The Weather Channel (Free): The Weather Channel provides the most accurate and relevant weather information whenever weather matters to you. There is no alerting capability with this application;
  • WeatherGeek ($4.99): View the same numerical weather models professional meteorologists use to develop their forecasts. There is no alerting capability with this application; and
  • WeatherTAP Zoom (Free): Pushes personalized current weather with detailed storm tracking capability. There is no alerting capability with this application (Not available on Android).

Additional Resources

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