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Early Warning

April 24, 2012
Messenger News

When President Barack Obama crafted his 2013 federal budget, it included $36 million in cuts to the National Weather Service.

The budget is still being debated, but the NWS and its Storm Prediction Center are getting well-deserved credit for correctly forecasting a deadly storm (recently).

Both long-range and short-range forecasts anticipating a "high-end, life-threatening event" proved to be spot on.

Six people did die in Oklahoma, where a lightning strike crippled the outdoor siren network in Woodward. But more than 120 tornadoes were reported (April 14) in four states, including Iowa. That's more tornadoes in a single day than touch down in an average year.

A tornado in Creston took off the roof of the local hospital and caused severe damage to Southwestern Community College.

In Creston's case, the twister descended upon the community before sirens could be sounded, but the ample and urgent warnings certainly encouraged many to be aware and to take cover when necessary.

"Everybody had plenty of warning prior to it hitting," said Ken Forney, 63, of Thurman, another Iowa town that took a hit. "I'm sure that helped a lot."

Weather forecasters are taking cautious bows.

"We can't do this with every event," said Ken Miller of the Storm Prediction Center.

Yes, early warnings are important, but it's also wise not to become dependent upon them. The potential devastation is so vast that residents in Tornado Alley - which recently was expanded to include not only the traditional Plains states, but huge swaths of the Southeast, as well - should never become too complacent.

Still, the weather service's performance (recently) should offer a reason to reconsider trimming its budget ...

(Proposed cuts are nonpartisan. When he was a U.S. senator seven years ago, Rick Santorum sought legislation to severely scale back NWS services, ostensibly to benefit a campaign donor, the Pennsylvania-based private weather company, Accu-Weather. Santorum's bill died without gaining any co-sponsors.)

Weather is notoriously fickle. Forty-five years ago, a record 13 tornadoes dropped from the sky on a January day over southeast Iowa, killing a toddler in Lee County. No tornadoes had been recorded in that month previously, and none have been reported since.

Two days later, Burlington had more than a foot of snow.

But advance warning helps emergency officials and utility companies plan accordingly. Property damage might not be preventable, but human casualties can be minimized.

In this instance, it certainly appears we got our money's worth.

- The Hawk Eye, April 17



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