Yes, there are a couple of photos of the “Mayflower Tornado” that show a classic, wedge-shaped funnel, wider than it is tall. Many—but not all—destructive tornadoes have that appearance.
The real question is why we keep losing people in storms that are forecast well in advance. The Storm Prediction Center was warning of a major outbreak two days in advance; they pegged southern/central Arkansas as the most likely area for dangerous, long-track tornadoes by early afternoon and had a PDS watch up 3-4 hours before the Mayflower storm developed. Couple that with warnings from the local NWS in Little Rock and other sources (including the Weather Channel) and virtually everyone along the twister’s path had at least 20 minutes warning time. Yet, 16 people died in Arkansas alone and the death toll will go even higher.
I believe there are several factors that contributed to this. First, in places like Arkansas, there are more people living in mobile homes and we know what a tornado does to that type of structure. However, the Mayflower storm demolished well-built wood and brick structures as well, and that raises another point: if you’re in the path of one of these monsters, the odds of your survival may be slim if you don’t have a basement or tornado shelter. In that regard, Arkansas is like every other state in Tornado Alley; the number of people with basements or shelters is very low.
But I think the biggest problem is complacency on the part of the public. The low-information crowd can’t be bothered with non-stop weather coverage (might interrupt the newest episode of their HBO drama, or at the other end, keep them from watching “Devious Maids on Lifetime).
Viewers who actually tune in receive a flood of information, and assume they know exactly where the storm is, and can go about their regular routine. There was a well-publicized incident during the deadly Joplin tornado where a young couple complained about not being served at a local restaurant because the tornado sirens were going off. They went to another eatery and arrived just in time to be herded into the walk-in freezer, moments before the EF-5 leveled the neighborhood. I wonder if they still go out to eat when their county is under a tornado warning.
Finally, I’ll put part of the blame on local radio stations, which should be a lifeline during a weather emergency. But due to budget cuts, they’ve deferred “live” coverage to local TV stations, cable outlets and the web. But when the power goes out, many of those other sources are unavailable, and when they tune to the local radio station, they hear (in most cases) an automated jukebox. The announcers, with the possible exception of the morning crew, are “voice-tracked” from a personality or format service hundreds of miles away.
When I lived in Mississippi, I remember walking out of a Wal-Mart on a story Sunday night, just as the tornado sirens went off. I jumped in my car and turned on the most popular local station; the announcer assured us that it would be a “beautiful day, with a high near 85.” Not only was the forecast hours out date, the station apparently did not air weather bulletins through through the emergency alert system (EAS).
I don’t know if it was ignorance, indifference, or a lack of warning through the “right” media, but there should not have been that many people on I-40 when the storm blew through last night. It will be interesting to learn if any of the victims died on the highway, or they were killed at home, in the communities hardest-hit by the tornadoes. When you’ve got a deadly tornado churning through the country-side, you don’t need to be in a vehicle, unless you’re law enforcement, another first responder, or someone evacuating from a mobile home.
A tornado is not like a hurricane which will ravage an entire area. Literally a tornado can destroy one house while leaving a house just across the street virtually unscathed....so even if your town is in the path, the odds for your house getting hit still aren’t all that high.
I agree with all of your points...the other factor when I chase tornadoes, I find that many of the locals have lived through countless Tornado Watches/Warnings and have never been directly impacted that they just don’t believe they will be impacted.
Your point about well built homes being swept away is the #1 issue, though. You need to be underground or in a new above ground storm shelter to survive the type of tornado that plowed through Arkansas. Many folks do not have that luxury...
It’s ok to be in a vehicle if you’re driving in right angles from the storm, sometimes it’s best if you can’t find suitable shelter.
“Finally, Ill put part of the blame on local radio stations, which should be a lifeline during a weather emergency. But due to budget cuts, theyve deferred live coverage to local TV stations, cable outlets and the web. But when the power goes out, many of those other sources are unavailable, and when they tune to the local radio station, they hear (in most cases) an automated jukebox. The announcers, with the possible exception of the morning crew, are voice-tracked from a personality or format service hundreds of miles away.”
When I lived in Mississippi, I remember walking out of a Wal-Mart on a stormy Sunday night, just as the tornado sirens went off. I jumped in my car and turned on the most popular local station; the announcer assured us that it would be a beautiful day, with a high near 85. Not only was the forecast hours out date, the station apparently did not air weather bulletins through the emergency alert system (EAS). “
So many stories lumped into these two paragraphs.
“Local” radio stations - very different now than years ago. As I read this earlier today, I was recalling the time in the early 70s when I worked at WJLJ in Tupelo, MS. We were a very small, new, daytime AM radio station - we had no news staff at all, let alone a weather staff. But the one thing that was drilled into my head almost from the moment I arrived there - Tupelo had nearly been flattened by a tornado many years previous, and the populace was still constantly on edge. So we had a separate weather wire installed alongside our regular newswire, and it did the trick. We monitored it faithfully, and our listeners were always informed. All the affiliations with TV stations, and graphics, and whatever else today are meaningless, if they don’t get the information to frightened listeners when they need it. Bottom line, we didn’t need the stuff they use today, had no staff, and far and away kept our audience best informed about the frightening weather in Tupelo. And there was always some of that.
So, very shocking to come home tonight and see all this horrible information about a tornado in Tupelo. Just darn. Talking about destruction of a mall - I left there in 1974, and I suspect this is one built after I left. Sounds awful, I had hoped they wouldn’t have to go through that again. Never thought it would be today.
The second part of your comment - about the state of radio today. I had the exact same experience (and this exact time of year, too) with a favorite radio station in New Orleans. I was in town for JazzFest, we had heard the weather was threatening, and I turned on the radio hoping for some accurate info. I had it on a station I had listened to before, not knowing it had changed into one of those voice tracked from afar stations. I kept waiting and waiting for any updates on the weather or conditions at the Fairgrounds - never mentioned!!! I finally realized what was going on. Just imagine having so many people captive wanting to know what was going on, and as you said, “beautiful day with a high near 85.” Really, what purpose does radio serve anymore - it was once a lifeline, now just a joke.