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Real Stories

On January 21, 1999, Dr. Keith Williams, Superintendent of the Beebe, Ark., school district, was in his office when the alarm on his NOAA Weather Radio sounded at 2 p.m. Williams continued monitoring the strong line of thunderstorms that was heading his way all afternoon. It was a potentially dangerous situation. That evening the school was to be the site for several high school basketball games. When the first game began, the National Weather Service had issued tornado warnings associated with the strong line of thunderstorms approaching Beebe.

By half time, around 6:30 p.m., NWS had issued "upstream" tornado warnings. Althought it was an unpopular decision, Williams cancelled the game and evacuated the 300 to 400 fans and players. Many fans were angry about the decision, since they had paid admission for two games. However, when the tornado that completely destroyed the gymnasium struck, everyone had been evacuated. No lives were lost; no one was injured.

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In July 1997, more than 3,000 people had turned out in Lancaster, Ohio, for an outdoor concert. When the NWS issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the area, it automatically came over the 50 public works walkie-talkies in the field. Organizers had time to cancel the event and evacuate the field. The result? No one was hurt except for a few people who were still in the parking lot when lightening struck a car.

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On April 4,1997, at 4:52 p.m., the NWS issued a tornado warning that included the small community of Shongaloo, La. The principal of the local high school was the only person in the school building at the time. He knew about the tornado because his NOAA Weather Radio had sounded an alarm. His wife also had a weather radio at home and called to tell him of the approaching storm. By the time the tornado hit Shongaloo at 5 p.m. -- only 8 minutes later -- the principal had taken cover and was not injured. Even if the tornado had struck during school hours, eight minutes is still enough lead time to move students to a safe place in the building.

For More Information

Contact Marci Hilt, National Partnership for Reinventing Government, at or (202) 694-0089.