Tornado season heading for record book

May 26, 2011 at 9:02 PM
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa., May 26 (UPI) -- With nearly 1,200 tornadoes reported so far, the 2011 season is destined for the U.S. tornado record book, meteorologists say.

Four have been deadly EF-5 twisters, the highest rated strength for a tornado, resulting in a death toll has surpassed 500, significantly higher than the average annual fatalities of about 60, reported Thursday.

Science does not have the tools to stop a tornado from touching down but investment in enhanced warning infrastructure and more awareness of severe weather events can reduce their impact, Accuweather said.

Doppler radar technology and the specialized skills of severe weather meteorologists can track tornadoes at street level and provide timely warnings in an attempt to reduce loss of life and property, forecasters said.

But there is still room for improvement, they said.

During the Joplin, Mo., tornado Sunday, emergency sirens sounded 20 minutes before the twister landed but many people were still caught off guard. This might be in part due to the high number of precautionary alarms, forecasters said.

While warnings are a boon to the public at large, false warnings are not only inconvenient but can affect specific operations, they said.

"To a hospital, a false alarm takes the focus off patient care and forces medically difficult sheltering," said Accuweather's Mike Smith.

However, accurate forecasts can help government agencies know when their shelter areas or locations essential to the continuation of public services are threatened. As a result, local relief and public safety services can avoid interruptions at a time when they will be desperately needed, Accuweather said.

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