The tornadoes were unrelenting — more than 100 in 24 hours over a stretch of the Plains states. They tossed vehicles and ripped through homes. They drove families to their basements and whipped debris across small towns throughout the Midwest. In some areas, baseball-size hail rained from the sky. And yet, in a stroke that some officials have attributed to a more vigilant and persistent warning system, relatively few people were killed or injured.
As of Monday morning, there were six confirmed deaths from the weekend storms in Woodward, a rural community about 140 miles from Oklahoma City. Local emergency management officials said on Monday that four children were among the victims and that 31 people had been hurt, with injuries ranging from minor wounds to those requiring hospitalization. A spokeswoman for the state’s chief medical examiner identified five of the victims as Frank Hobbie and two girls, ages 5 and 7, all of whom died after the tornado hit their mobile home park, and Derrin Juul and a 10-year-old girl, both of whom died in a house a few miles away. It was believed that the two girls killed with Mr. Hobbie were his daughters, and that the 10-year-old girl was Mr. Juul’s daughter. The identity of the sixth victim, a critically injured child who was airlifted to a Texas hospital, had not been released. Days ahead of the deadly winds there was an unusual warning that alerted residents across at least five states to the threat of “extremely dangerous” and “catastrophic” weather. The predictions held, it seems. But the people listened. “I really think people took the warnings, and they took them very seriously,” Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas said Sunday. “We had more notice on this system than you normally do. You normally are looking at a couple of hours’ notice. Well, this one had almost two days’ notice.” In southwest Iowa, a tornado battered the small town of Thurman, damaging or destroying 75 to 90 percent of its homes, the authorities said. And yet, somehow in the town of about 200, there were no serious injuries or deaths reported. “Mostly everybody was able to get to cover before it hit,” said Mike Crecelius, the emergency management director for the county.
Nearby, the high winds overturned five tractor-trailers that had been traveling on Interstate 29 shortly before the tornado hit. One truck driver was taken to a hospital with a perforated lung, Mr. Crecelius said. Forecasters issued their first warning on Friday, predicting a tornado outbreak that had the potential of being a “high-end, life-threatening event” for a swath of the Midwest. Officials said the enhanced language had been developed because of the large number of deaths from tornadoes across the country in recent years. “This is one of the lessons learned from the various deadly outbreaks of tornadoes last year,” Chris Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Weather Service, said Sunday in a telephone interview. One warning in Wichita, Kan., on Saturday said: “This is a life-threatening situation. You could be killed if not underground or in a tornado shelter.” The system will be tested for another six months before National Weather Service officials decide whether to continue or expand it. Before the storms hit on Saturday, Mike Hudson, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Kansas City, Mo., called the forecast perhaps the “first opportunity” to gauge the effect of the heightened language. Early returns were promising, officials said. Sharon Watson, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Adjutant General’s Department, said, “The language that was being used appeared to make people pay more attention.” In 2011, 550 people nationwide, and more than 150 in Joplin, Mo., alone, were killed by tornadoes, Mr. Vaccaro said, the fourth deadliest year on record. The deadliest year was 1925, when 794 people were reported killed by tornadoes. Weather service officials chose Kansas and Missouri to test the new language, Mr. Vaccaro said, because of the number of storms that typically develop there. “We wanted to pick the central states because you’re in the heart of Tornado Alley,” he said. Despite the impressive number of tornadoes, weather experts said the data did not indicate any significant increase in the number or the severity of storms in recent years. - NY Times.