Playing with Data

Personal Views Expressed in Data

The Elusive Tornado Emergency Product

In light of this year’s extremely violent tornadoes and the reaction to them amongst the meteorological, emergency management, and social science communities, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the National Weather Service’s (NWS) practice of issuing tornado emergencies. For those who don’t know, this product is, in theory, designed to serve as a “more severe” tornado warning. Essentially a tornado emergency is nothing more than a regular tornado warning with a variant of the phrase, “This is a tornado emergency,” contained somewhere in the text. This phrase could be contained somewhere in the initial tornado warning or in a follow-up statement known as a severe weather statement.

Over the last few days I have been working on putting together a collection of all tornado emergencies ever issued. The first one was issued on 3 May 1999, as a severe weather statement, as the Bridge Creek F5 tornado threatened downtown Oklahoma City. Since then this product has been issued over 100 times with varying success. Much like the success of the tornado emergency product, I have had varying levels of success in tracking down all the products ever issued. So far I am fairly confident that I have collected all of the tornado emergency statements since 2005. Unfortunately I have run into a problem with tornado emergencies prior to 2005. The problem stems from the fact that the, “This is a tornado emergency,” tagline can be placed in one of several NWS text products. All initial tornado warning statements that contained this tagline are archived and I am fairly confident I’ve retrieved them all. However, obtaining severe weather statements prior to 2005 have proven elusive. (The exception to this is the severe weather statements from the Fort Worth, TX office on 28 March 2000 when a tornado emergency was issued for downtown Fort Worth, which I have found.)

Please see the Tornado Emergency post for a listing of all known tornado emergencies. Subesquent posts will contain images.