I have been wondering why so many deaths occurred in Joplin, and I have tried to find out how much warning residents had . [I now know 20 minutes is the answer to the easy question. ] A fuller account of the deadly nature of the story can be found in the Christian Science Monitor article, May 23, titled Joplin, Missouri, tornado: Warnings pale in season of violent twisters. It noted that residents of Joplin, Missouri, had about 20 minutes of warning before a tornado strike Sunday. But this spring, early warnings have not been enough to prevent high death tolls from tornadoes.
A tornado that claimed at least 89 lives in Joplin, Missouri, on Sunday is part of a disturbing pattern in a spring of violent weather. A series of tornado outbreaks in April and May have now killed more than 400 Americans. Officials in Joplin, which is still reeling from the tornado, say sirens went off about 20 minutes before the twister hit, but given the fluid situation on the ground, it’s still not possible to know why so many people died.
On average, tornado deaths in the United States have gone from 8 per 1 million people in 1925 to 0.11 per 1 million people today – a trend largely attributed to early-warning systems fed by advanced meteorology and the introduction of Doppler radar.
Yet the stunning death tolls from tornadoes this spring raise new questions about government subsidies for storm shelters, the psychology of warning response, the possibility of limited tornado evacuations, and the argument that tornado warning and response should be considered a national security issue.
“As big as these events have been, people are putting politics aside and asking questions they weren’t willing to ask a year ago,” says Kevin Simmons, an economist at Austin College in Sherman, Texas, who has studied tornado casualty tolls. “After the Oklahoma City tornado in 1999, we were horrified by 36 people dying. We’re now talking about hundreds.”
The sheer power of the storm systems, which have been produced by unusual jet-stream dips bringing strong cold fronts into the Midwest and South, is the main factor in the death toll, researchers say. April saw a record-breaking 600 tornadoes spawn across the US, many of them powerful enough to crush houses and malls. Researchers have to go back to a massive 1974 tornado outbreak and then back to the 1930s to find storms of similar magnitude and impact.
May 24, CNN. Missouri tornado deadliest in decades. CNN, May 24. The tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri, Sunday killed 118 people, authorities said Tuesday, making it the deadliest single U.S. tornado since modern record-keeping began more than 60 years ago.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said Tuesday morning the death toll has risen to 118 and the number of deaths is expected to rise as rescuers find more bodies in the rubble. [A twister in Flint, Michigan, in 1953 killed 116 people, according to the National Weather Service.]
- Joplin, Missouri Tornado Video: ‘The Trees Are Debarked’ (huffingtonpost.com)
- Joplin, MO Tornado: Horrifying Video From Inside The Twister (huffingtonpost.com)
- “Joplin, Missouri Devastated After Tornado Kills 89: Busy Parent Briefing” and related posts (blogs.babble.com)
- Frightening Video: Tornado Rocks Joplin, Missouri, Killing Almost 100 (newsfeed.time.com)