When severe weather strikes, AllisonHouse wants to keep you informed when bad weather is moving in. We have the same high-speed data feed that the National Weather Service offices use, received via a large satellite dish. We have backups to that, in case our dish and receiver goes down. And, if that feed goes down entirely from the Weather Service, we have backups to keep the critical data flowing. Thankfully, that is now becoming extremely rare, as they have replaced and upgraded many of their systems, and continue to upgrade or replace the remaining older ones.
And you know what?
It doesn’t matter if you can’t get the alert that tells you a tornado is coming…or if you haven’t checked to see what is going on. And sometimes, that will lead to disastrous consequences.
On December 27th, 2015, the National Weather Service’ Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma issued an “enhanced” risk of severe thunderstorms for much of northeastern Texas. Included in that was a 10% risk of tornadoes within 25 miles of any point in the area. This area included much of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. The local National Weather Service office highlighted that threat on their web page, and the local and national media were also giving regular updates on the situation. And yet, even though the tornado watch was issued well in advance, and tornado warnings were issued in a timely matter, 11 people still died around the metro area, with most of the fatalities occurring on area highways. People literally drove right into the tornado.
I pondered this after the event was over. How, in 2015 (almost 2016 at the time), is this still possible? I am not talking about people who intentionally drove out there to see a tornado. I’m talking about the average, typical American. We see the state department of transportation videos afterwards of people driving into the tornado, or storm chaser video of people doing just that. Long zoom lenses and increasingly higher quality cameras and lenses will let us see things in graphic detail from here on out….including in this event, even though it was at night. So do how we solve this problem? How can we stop people from being on the roads when tornadoes are touching down? Here are the solutions I think will work in largely solving the issue.
1. Even if you are poor, see if you can afford a $10, cheap weather radio that you can use at home, or in your car, with a simple all-county alert mechanism on it…and get one. Take it with you whenever severe weather is possible…and even when it is not. Check the radar, preferably with an AllisonHouse supported app, or local broadcast TV networks for up-to-date information. Step 1 is situational awareness. “But”, you might protest, “Even if there is a tornado warning, if I am late for work, I will be fired.” You have two realistic options: get there well before the storm arrives, or hold off. You can’t be late for work if you are dead, and it just isn’t worth that. Call your boss and explain the situation. He or she may accomodate you. But it is true that, at least for now, if there is a tornado warning and the boss says you must come into work, he has the right to make you do that. See:
For a good explanation of this. Again, though: if you work hard, and your boss knows it, he or she probably will make that accommodation, even if you have to take a vacation hour or two, or unpaid time off.
2. While driving, be aware! At night, this becomes even harder, since your main focus is on driving. But, have your cell phone with government alerts set to ON, have your portable weather radio with you in your car, and if you are in a major metro area, see if a local radio station is broadcasting a TV station simulcast, or their own news department is broadcasting up-to-date information.
I know you want to listen to Pandora, XM Satellite radio, commercial/HD music radio stations, etc. On a day when tornadoes are touching down, you need to have your ears open to what is going on.
3. If you get caught in a severe thunderstorm, pull off the side of the road. If there is a tornado warning, hiding under a bridge will only make things worse! If you can see the tornado coming at you, try to drive away from it at a perpendicular angle. In other words: if the tornado is heading east, drive south if you are in its path…or it appears you are in its path.
4. The very best advice I can give you, however, is DON’T DRIVE AT ALL when severe weather is moving in. Driving into, or getting caught in a severe thunderstorm while driving is putting your life at risk, end of story. Even if the thunderstorm doesn’t produce a tornado, you can drive into floodwaters and be swept away, blown off the highway, get your car annhilated by large hail or flying debris, or be hit by a tornado. If that doesn’t sound like something you’d enjoy, and you can put off getting the groceries for a few hours, then do so. Only emergency personnel should be on the road in a tornado warning, and everyone else needs to get off the roads…and into a substantial shelter.
Having said all of that, the key points I want you to focus in on during a severe weather event are situational awareness, and reasonable expectations of travel. During severe weather, only weather spotters and emergency officials should be out on the roads. They volunteer to keep you safe by risking their safety. Make their jobs worth it by sheltering in a safe location.
Finally, I’m not going to pass judgment on how those people were killed in the vehicles. Maybe they did know, and tried to escape…but couldn’t get off the interstate, or didn’t know where shelter was. Maybe they just didn’t care and were willfully ignorant. We don’t know. What I do know was that each and every one of those deaths was preventable. And by using AllisonHouse data with your favorite weather alert/radar display software, you can help avoid becoming one of these very ugly statistics. And when you do get the word that severe weather is moving in: stay alive, don’t drive!