Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Atlanta tornado: some thoughts

By now, I'm sure you heard about the tornado that touched down in Atlanta Friday night. Ross mentioned it in his latest blog but I also wanted to touch on it. The National Weather Service rated the tornado as EF-2 and estimated the winds were near 130mph at its strongest point. It passed 100 yards to the north of the Georgia Dome where over 18,000 people were watching the SEC men's basketball tournament game between Alabama and Mississippi State. If you haven't seen it, here's a link to a clip of the game as it was interrupted. In addition, it hit nearby Phillips Arena where a NBA game was being played (over 16,000 people there).

The National Weather Service issued the Tornado Warning at 9:30pm and the tornado first touched down at 9:38pm. It affected the Georgia Dome around 9:40pm. At the Dome and the arena, none of the participating fans were informed in advance of the tornado. From what I've read, the officials said they got notice of the warning pretty much as the tornado struck. However, the most troubling aspect of all: it appears that both facilities didn't use or perhaps didn't even have a plan of action for severe weather.

Ironically, just 2 weeks ago when I was in Norman for the National Severe Weather Workshop, I heard a talk on this very subject: Proactive or Reactive? The Severe Storm Threat to Large Event Venues. As Les Lemon, one of the co-authors of the paper, stated during his talk: "it's not a matter of if, but when." Sometime in the future at some big event, severe weather will strike. Mr. Lemon believes that if the folks in charge of these events don't have a severe weather plan to get the attendees to shelter, people will die and the death toll could be in the hundreds, perhaps in the thousands.

We're lucky so far...there have been several close calls at events like this.

I still don't understand why it took so long for the Dome officials to receive the warning. I don't know what technology they have in place to monitor the weather. Do they have a weather radio? Do they monitor local TV or radio broadcasts? All I can say is that if they didn't use their plan, they should have and if they don't have one, they need one. Every large venue (NASCAR tracks, football and baseball stadiums, arenas) needs to have some kind of plan of action to protect the people attending. Had the tornado made a direct strike on the Dome and the roof collapsed, who knows how high the death toll would have been.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

This does raise good questions. Not sure if there is a clear cut answer on what should have been done, but plans do need to be raised. It is obvious that key officials knew what was going on, but didn't know how to communicate the warning and what to do.

Hope Sedgwick county officials think about this with their arena since we are in the middle of Tornado alley.