When a tornado warning isn’t enough

Unlike hurricanes, there is no way to predict with relative certainty the arrival and ferocity of tornadoes.

But as officials scrutinized preparations for the devastating tornadoes that ravaged the country’s mid-section on Friday, many said if something went wrong before the storms hit, it was more a lack of response to warnings than a lack of information on hazards.

Severe weather warnings began Thursday and were issued throughout Friday in a multitude of states. Sirens woke people in some areas late Friday and early Saturday to warn them that a tornado was approaching and they needed to take shelter from windows.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson on Sunday cited “the importance of the early warning system, sirens and taking action whenever you hear it.” In his state, one person died in a nursing home, a relatively low death toll Mr Hutchinson called a “miracle”.

In Tennessee, where three people were killed, Gov. Bill Lee told a press conference on Saturday that the toll was not higher because “people were prepared.”

“There has been a very strong warning effort in many communities,” Lee said. “Residents of these communities have been warned of the danger and informed of the impending storms and, in many cases, we know that there have been significant evacuations in the communities. “

Of course, even the right preparation cannot offset the whim of volatile and unpredictable storms. But meteorologists issued warnings to residents early Friday in the six states where the tornadoes appeared to be touching the ground. Hardest-hit state in Kentucky, forecasters said Thursday and throughout Friday that severe weather was probably Friday night.

In Mayfield, Kentucky, where dozens of people died in a candle factory, workers who survived began to wonder why they had been left to work inside the building when everyone knew the weather was coming.

Workers at the candle factory described hearing sirens on and off all night long. The tornado struck after a day of increasingly urgent warnings – at 3 p.m., the local National Weather Service office in Paducah, Ky. Said “several strong tornadoes” were “likely.” And at 8 p.m., the agency said people must have a “shelter-in-place plan.”

Isaiah Holt, 32, was in his wax and perfume department when he heard sirens. Just over a day later, on Sunday, he was in a hospital bed in Nashville, suffering from a bruised lung and broken ribs and worrying about his brother, who also worked at the factory. Her brother had been covered in bricks when the building collapsed.

Mr Holt questioned whether the company should have kept people at work after tornado warnings were issued. “They should have canceled,” he said.

For some structures, warnings were not sufficient to prevent damage.

In Edwardsville, Ill., Where an Amazon warehouse is located where six people were killed, a tornado watch was in effect by mid-afternoon, and it became a tornado. warning before 9 p.m.. local time, with radar capturing the destructive tornado shortly after.

In the Amazon factory, workers took shelter in two places. Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said that “the company has calculated that approximately 11 minutes elapsed between the first warning of a tornado and when it hit the delivery station.”

One of the two areas was “directly hit by the tornado,” she said.

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