WBTV Meteorologist Al Conklin attends severe weather conference | Weather
BIRMINGHAM (WBTV Meteorologist Al Conklin) - In a blog last week, I told you about seeing first-hand the damage in the Birmingham, Alabama area while there attending the National Weather Association’s severe weather conference.
One of the conference highlights was a town-hall style meeting, which provided forecasters an opportunity to meet and talk with tornado survivors.
Some of what we heard was encouraging feedback, other bits of what we heard gave us reason to pause: we can provide ample warning, but we still don’t understand human behavior…how folks react when caught in perilous situations.
To recap, the April 27 outbreak killed 313 people across the South, 251 in Alabama. The May 22 Joplin, Mo. tornado killed 162.
A group of about 200 tornado survivors clicked their answers on how they reacted to tornado threats, and some of the answers were eye-opening.
· Click -- 71 percent said they owned a NOAA weather radio on April 27.
· Click -- 67 percent on April 27 had a tornado safety plan and followed it.
· Click -- 51 percent took immediate protective action upon hearing the warnings.
Using hand-held electronic devices to click on multiple choice questions, the tornado survivors gave their contribution to a body of study still in its infancy -- how people react to severe weather warnings, specifically tornado threats.
The survey in real time was aimed at saving lives by helping weather professionals provide better warnings and education, and helping the public better assess their risk.
The effort to study human behavior during these storms comes in one of the deadliest years on record for tornadoes. Tornado deaths in 2011 stand at 546, the fourth highest yearly count on record, and the highest since 1936 when forecasting technology was much less sophisticated.
Speaking later that night with a good friend of mine…a guy you’ve probably heard of…Jim Cantore of The Weather Channel, he made this observation: "we know people don't do what we expect of them, but we also know that the more information people have about weather warnings, the more likely they are to take protective action."
The group of survivors generally didn't rely on sirens and wanted more specific geographic information to go with their tornado warnings. Ninety-seven percent said the "proximity/path of the storm" was the most important part of understanding their risk. Many praised TV meteorologists…including those at the Alabama Raycom Media stations, WBTV’s parent company…who knew the area and cited specific roads and landmarks while broadcasting the storm’s projected path.
In other findings, more than three-quarters of the group said they relied on television to follow the severe weather, at least until power went out. And 68 percent said they did not have access to a below ground or reinforced storm shelter.
Before the meeting, the host, John Scala, best known for his work on The Weather Channel, said that while there's been much focus, using improved technology to track and warn about tornadoes, weather professionals do need much more information about the wild card -- human behavior.
"We've done an awful lot on the warning side now let's see what we can do to improve decision making," Scala said. "I think there's a lot we can do to improve awareness, perception of risk, and education."
We’re blessed to live in a part of the South that rarely…if ever…experiences such deadly outbreaks, but we’ve always got to be on-guard. Having seen the damage and destruction, having talked with survivors, I’m back in Charlotte today feeling good that WBTV is committed to having the best weather technology available and that our team…weather and news…knows where you live and we’ll always be here for you.
But please – please – do your part as well: have a severe weather safety plan for your family, church, school, business…know what you need to do the next time severe weather threatens and share that invaluable information with others around you. Having those plans, and trusting hometown meteorologists, saved lives in Alabama.
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