I'm a CMU Honors student and love meteorology and extreme weather. I've been fascinated by weather since I was 5, and plan on becoming a meteorologist
By: wxchaser97 , 3:57 AM GMT on May 25, 2013
On Monday May 20th, 2013, Moore, Oklahoma got hit, once again, by a violent tornado. This tornado has been rated an EF-5 on the Enhanced Fujita(EF) scale. Winds were estimated to be up to 210mph at the peak. Lots of houses and business were destroyed, including two schools with more building damaged. Damage is estimated to be around $2 billion, making this the 3rd costliest tornado on record. Twenty four people, including ten children, where killed by this tornado, with hundreds more injured. Most of the children that passed died in an elementary school, more on that later. The death toll would've been higher if it weren't for the advanced warning lead times, storm spotters/chaser, time of day, and exact track of the tornado. The 2013 Moore tornado will be remembered for a very long time.
May 20th was expected to be another bad day for tornadoes. The prior two days both had violent tornadoes, an EF-4 in Rozel, KS on May 18th and an EF-4 in Shawnee, OK on May 19th. On the 20th, the atmosphere was once again primed for the severe weather outbreak to continue. There were good amounts of CAPE, shear, moister, etc, which meant severe weather was likely. Boundaries left from previous storms were one trigger that initiated storms. A cold front and a dry line also triggered storms. During the afternoon hours, supercell thunderstorms formed. These cells would be responsible for the tornadoes in the south-central plains. One cell was aimed right at the Oklahoma City(OKC) metro area. This supercell strengthened under great conditions. At about 2:45pm CDT, a tornado touched down near Newcastle, OK, a tornado warning was issued 5 minutes earlier. As it moved northwest, the tornado rapidly intensified from an EF-0 to an EF-4. A tornado emergency was then issued for Moore and south OKC. It is ironic that the first tornado emergency ever issued happened for the exact same area in 1999. Then, a large F5 tornado hit Bridge Creek, Moore, and south OKC. That one killed 36 people and caused $1.4 billion dollars in damage. The 1999 and 2013 tornadoes are comparable in size, strength, path, and damage. Anyway, after the emergency was issued the tornado continued to track toward Moore and strengthen. It hit the city with devastating results. The worst damage occurred near the Briarwoord Elementary School. The tornado continued on and dissipated rapidly several miles east of Moore. Other cells brought rain and wind to Moore after the tornado. This was luckily the only violent tornado on the 20th. A radar loop of the tornado and a video of the tornado can be found below. Credit goes to NWS Norman for the radar and TVNWeather for the video.
Two schools were hit in the Moore area, Briarwood Elementary and Plaza Towers Elementary. Major damage occurred at both schools with them basically being totally destroyed. While Briarwood didn't get injuries/deaths, Plaza Towers did. Seven kids died and more staff and students where injured when the tornado struck. This got me thinking, how safe are my own schools? Southeast Michigan(SE MI) has seen violent tornadoes in the past. The last EF4/F4 to impact SE MI was in 1976 when a F4 tornado hit Bloomfield Hills and West Bloomfield. That tornado killed one, injured 55, and caused $55 million in 1976 USD. That tornado was bad, but it could've been a lot worse. The NWS did a "what if" situation on if an EF-5 tracked through Metro Detroit. It is estimated that billions of dollars in damage would be done, tens of thousands of buildings affected, and deaths/injuries would occur. This is the projected path of the hypothetical tornado. If you push that track about a mile or two north it is fully impacting Berkley. The city would be in for its largest and worst disaster ever, most likely with injuries and unfortunately possibly deaths. Neighborhoods would be gone, business destroyed if an EF-5 hit us. School building could also be hit, doing tremendous damage to the older infrastructure. There are some fatal flaws in the school's tornado preparedness plans, and they need to be fixed before a tornado strikes.
Today, Friday May, 24th, 2013, I talked to the administrators at two schools today, a middle school(Anderson Middle School) and the high school(Berkley High School). Both of these have tornado plans already. They are both also decided on by someone higher up in the school district. As for the schools themselves, they are both 2 story buildings and they are both aging. Construction on both of them was most likely in the middle of the 1900s(1940s-1960s). This means that they aren't built up to the latest MI building codes and aren't as strong as they could be. Yes I know there is maintenance to make them as good as possible but they just aren't perfect. This means that the buildings are more prone to damage from destructive winds. They won't be torn down and rebuilt for a long while due to the cost. The aging infrastructure problem isn't something that can be taken care of as easily as other things.
What both the middle school and high school also have in common is there tornado action plans. What we do when we have a tornado drill(which is that much, more on that later) is there is an audible alarm that goes off. We "calmly" get up and go into our respected hallways. We then line up single file against the lockers and cover the back over our head and neck with our hands. For the few drills, we do this for a few minutes and then go back to class. For a real tornado we would, hopefully, do it until the danger has passed. The big problem is, though, where they place of us. If you have a class that is up stair, chances are you will remain upstairs in the warning and drill situation, as pointed out in their plan. Also, some kids are in the collaborative center if it is needed (there are lots of windows surrounding most of it making shelter stupid). These two things are unacceptable Berkley! In a separate letter today about a stranger danger, they said student safety is their "number one priority". Well Berkley Schools, explain to me why you put student's lives at a higher risk by placing them in unsafe areas. Some places students are sheltered are too risky and if a tornado hits they would be at greater risk for injury and sadly death. The middle school isn't much different. I was told that during tornado drills/warnings kids and teachers are on the second floor. Whatever happened to being on the lowest floor of a sturdy building? There is no excuse for them being there. The principle, who I am friends with, knows it too. He can't do too much though. He said that for the plan to change it requires a team of experts coming in and determining what areas are safe and not safe and what practices are safer. It also take action from the board office, not the individual school administrators (Principals / vice principals). I just hope that this will get fixed soon as it is not smart to be on the second story of a building during a tornado.
Sadly, that is not the only problem in their plan. We don't do enough drills. I have a hard time remembering the 1 drill that we probably did at the beginning of the year. When I ask my sister she has a hard time remembering when the middle school did their last drill. Well that right there is a problem. When the real tornado is headed toward us, we need to know what to do, and fast. You know what they say, practice makes perfect. Since we don't do enough practice, we certainly aren't perfect. There could be panic and chaos since we might not remember what to exactly do. I know nothing is absolutely perfect, but if there is a good amount of practice everything can go closer to plan. Once we get to our areas, we crouch down single file against the lockers/walls and put two hands over our head and neck. I don't mind everything but the two hands thing. I feel that there isn't enough coverage/strength with just two hands protecting your head and neck. The best option would be for, when a tornado warning is issued, for everyone to be wearing a helmet for protection from flying/falling debris. I am smart enough to know that this is pretty impracticable, but something more than just two hands is a good idea.
I've gone through and mentioned the problems I have with the tornado plans for AMS and BHS. However, it is one thing to just point out the problems, and another thing to point out the problems and add solutions. First, on the images below the X out areas are do not shelter areas, the red dotted lines are do not shelter on 2nd floor, and the green lines are clear to shelter. I made it where large, open spaces with windows (gyms, auditoriums, etc) are non-shelter areas. These places usually have more rood for debris to fly around and more windows to break and allow destructive winds to come in and do damage. Just watch the Henryville gym and Joplin East Middle School being destroyed on security cameras . If anyone was in those buildings, luckily there weren't, they would've been injured or killed by flying debris. This is exactly why large spaces/rooms have been eliminated. Next, I have gotten rid of everyone on the second floor. They must be taking shelter on the first floor. The NWS says to always be on the lowest level of a study building during a tornado, it decreases the chances of being in the highest winds. There will be some space issues at first, but that can be addressed. Maybe having students line up double or triple file will fit everyone. As long as there is a big enough path for adults/students to walk through in the middle of the halls doubling or tripling up is fine. Another thing we need is more practice. I recommend that all of Berkley schools do 4 tornado drills per year, one at the start of every term. This way we get efficient in the process and we know exactly what to do without chaos when a real tornado is headed toward us. We also need to take these drills more seriously. Some people think it is just a waste of time or an excuse to get out of class for a bit. If we got a tornado, I hope those people were paying attention as to what to do or they might not be lucky. While this is less important than the two things above, I do recommend that we cover our head and neck with two arms, not hands. This gives more coverage area and the arms are a little stronger than the hands. Still, covering with the hands is way better than no protection. I'm just being a little nitpick there. I would like to see these thing implemented before the start of the 2013-2014 school year. A good resource for more info is this NWS school safety pdf. It goes over what I said and more.
I hope the Berkley School District gets to read this and revise their tornado plans. This is to make Berkley a severe weather ready district. I can help out with anything that is needed. I also know people that can help make sure things are done right (National Weather Service meteorologists). Thank you for reading this and have a good day/night.
The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.
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