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Prelude To Disaster

Jeffrey Kluger, Time, highlights the work by my fellow National Weather Center residents on May 20th in warning the public about the impending tornado emergency:

Sometime between 2:20 and 2;30 PM, the center issued a severe thunderstorm warning, which meant that tornadoes might be imminent. Given the severity of the conditions, Smith says they were poised to issue both that warning and the tornado emergency warning sooner than they might normally have been. A handful of the meteorologists, including Smith and Andra, were clustered at one of the eight work stations. Andra was the day’s “event coordinator,” making the moment to moment calls. They were all focusing on one of the screens that was showing a radar scan of the entire storm system. Based on the data stream they had coming in, they could overlay a relatively specific threat area on that larger  image. The meteorologists knew not just the likely tornado’s intensity but something about its track, so the footprint they drew was both immediate and predictive—at least a little.

I’m a postdoctoral researcher on the top floor of the building and am not involved in anyway with forecasting. Instead, I am generally busy playing with computer code or watching radar. My interactions with the operational staff are few, and on most days I never even visit the second floor (those guys are busy). It’s days like yesterday, however, that offer a reminder of how very glad I am that we have that second floor. Damn fine work.

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