May 23, 2011

May 22: Joplin

We are just rousing after a very late the time we got into Tulsa, had dinner and got back to the motel it was 12:30AM.   The initial reports we had about the Joplin tornado we got when we got back on the turnpike on the way back to Tulsa.  The toll taker told us that the tornado had some fatalities, and the hospital there was badly damaged.  But this morning, learned from colleagues that the Joplin tornado produced much more damage and casualties than the reports last night indicated.

Again, Thom and I were fortunate....had we not stopped in Miami OK to watch the funnel develop there, we probably would have been moving towards the developing hook northwest of Joplin 10 minutes earlier.  That 10 minutes meant all the difference as the hook was enveloping Interstate 44  by the time we entered the western parts of the city.  This the radar image we got just before we drove into that very broad hook and then stopped.

We need to get more details on the Joplin disaster.....the NWS had issued warnings long in advance of that storm moving into the city.  The storm was the ultimate endproduct of the storms that formed in se KS, which were tornado warned all afternoon.  When we dropped south to Miami OK, Joplin was already under a tornado warning.   So the sirens had to have been on, and the emergency services of the city in full action long before that tornado came into town.

Now we have leaned that the tornado was at least a half mile wide.  Although the sirens were turned on 30 minutes before the tornado hit (and again 15 minutes before), there's not much one can do if the tornado was a high end event...besides leave the path.  Apparently, just ahead of us on Interstate 44, 18 wheelers were lofted from the freeway, and homes were "slabbed" (according to reports from some colleagues who got to the town before the hook moved across the freeway).  By the way, one of these chase colleagues is  a doctor who today is serving as a volunteer for emergency services in Joplin.  Also, one of my colleagues was there with a tour of individuals....they helped emergency services in search and rescue.

In any event, this is one of the reasons we prefer to chase in the western Great Plains.   The population is sparse, and these sorts of sad things can't happen for supercells churning up the grassland.  So the elation we feel at the success of our chase yesterday is tempered by the knowledge that the storms we are chasing can produce awful effects, like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunami.