The silent triumph: weather warnings saved hundreds of lives in Midwest tornado outbreak

November 20, 2013

This commentary published in the Post’s Opinions section is worth a read:

The invisible successes of meteorology

Mike Smith, senior vice president of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, penned this piece. He points out just 6 people died from Sunday’s historic severe weather outbreak, whereas 267 people died from a similar outbreak in 1965.

Note in particular this important excerpt:

The lower death toll from this week’s storms was not inevitable; it is the result of a half-century of scientific discovery and technological development: Doppler radar, weather satellites, lightning detection networks and smartphone apps. It is a result of volunteer storm chasers instantly reporting the most violent tornado (the Washington, Ill., storm) when it first touched down near Pekin.

No other nation enjoys the quality and breadth of meteorological services available in the United States. It is an area in which federal dollars are put to valuable use and leveraged through the efforts of private-sector weather companies such as AccuWeather, and by meteorologists and emergency managers.

Related: Sunday’s tornado outbreak could be costliest November weather event in U.S. on record | A November tornado outbreak for the record books


National Weather Service forecasts identified the risk of severe storms Sunday several days in advance (National Weather Service)

Smith’s words are sage. Too often, meteorology gets a bad rap. Smith, author of “Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather”, has made it a mission to spread the word about progress in meteorology and the effectiveness of storm warnings.

Yes, occasionally meteorologists get it wrong. But, despite all of the atmosphere’s complexity, weather forecasts are increasingly on the mark, saving lives and helping people make decisions that save time and money.

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.
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