Anyone tuned into a television or weather service last week would have been hard pressed to miss the news that dangerous storms were brewing in the Midwest.
The Storm Prediction Center, part of the National Weather Service, issued warnings early and often. And when the storms actually materialized, a new alert system told residents of Kansas and Missouri to expect major house and building damage and complete destruction of vehicles and mobile homes. Clearly, these storms were meant to be taken seriously.
People appeared to do exactly that. Although five persons were killed and more than two dozen injured in Oklahoma, Kansas was fortunate to suffer no fatalities despite having 97 tornadoes reported.
It's premature to credit the experimental "Impact Based Warning" system being used this season in Kansas and Missouri for the absence of fatalities, and no one is officially doing so. But anecdotal reports suggest that residents listened to the warnings and took precautions.
The specificity of the reports makes a lot of sense. Announcing that an arriving storm is likely to upend cars and trailer homes commands attention in a way that announcing another "tornado warning" does not.
Over time, it's important to ensure that the warnings are as accurate as possible and that the new type of message isn't overused. In its opening run, though, the Impact Based Warning showed welcome potential.
Copyright Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.