Owensboro, Kentucky: A Real Success Story

Another suite of new technologies, coupled with improved inter-office communication and staff dedication, played major roles on January 3, 2000 when NWS issued life-saving warnings that gave Owensboro, Kentucky residents more than 20 minutes to take shelter from a devastating winter tornado that struck their town. The NWS Peducah, Kentucky office provided the advance warnings as tornadoes, downbursts, and severe, unseasonable thunderstorms raked southern Illinois, southern Indiana, and northwest Kentucky. And, NWS Director John J. Kelly, Jr., said all reports indicate that no lives were lost during the strong F-3 tornado because of new NWS technology and staff capabilities.

Customer Service Means Saving Lives

The NWS's mission is to protect lives and prevent property damage by warning the public of impending hazardous weather conditions through its national network of weather forecast offices and river forecast centers. "The staff at our Paducah office was able to issue a tornado warning that gave Owensboro emergency management and local residents 27 minutes to take protective actions," Kelly said. "The warnings were issued based strictly on data retrieved on the [new] Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS). Shift forecasters were able to evaluate several separate products simultaneously that provided data on different parts of a large storm system, and to dial into the Louisville WSR-88D radar to examine the storm from another angle. Being able to analyze different types of data and to discuss what was being seen with Louisville forecasters in real time gave us a real jump in getting out the warning. We've always preached that early warnings save lives, and that was clearly demonstrated in this case."




NWS Has a High-Tech Edge

Emergency management sounded the tornado sirens in Owensboro when the first tornado warning for the city was issued by the NWS at 3:43 p.m. The tornado moved into Owensboro at about 4:10 p.m. Preliminary surveys of the damage areas showed more than 750 homes and businesses destroyed or heavily damaged by the twister, and about 20 injuries were reported. But, thanks to the early warnings, no lives were lost to this storm.

"Even two years ago, our forecasters couldn't have operated like this," Director Kelly said. "They could have talked on the phone, but would have had to sort through several products in a sequential order as they decided to issue a warning. Being able to see from one another's radars and do several tasks at the same time gave them the edge they needed to issue warnings so quickly."

NWS Has a Professional Edge, Too

Kelly said the advantages provided by modern technology shouldn't be given all the credit for keeping residents safe from serious harm. "The new technology worked as it was designed to and certainly helped the Paducah forecasters do their jobs," Kelly said. "But, in the final analysis, what made the difference was the well-trained and professional staff who delivered for the residents in their county warning area in a very high pressure situation. My compliments to them!"

For more information, contact Curtis Carey by email, or visit the NWS Internet site.



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