Just a few weeks ago I found myself talking weather with a group of fifth to eighth graders in Dallas City, Ill. When I asked the students what they thought of when I said "Major Tornado" almost the entire class said "Joplin, Missouri". This moment with a class of middle school students took me back to that Sunday night, one year ago in Joplin ... I stayed awake for the all-night coverage and listened to Anderson Cooper on CNN explain the devastation and unbelievable loss of life.
On May 22, 2011 a large portion of Joplin was devastated by an EF-5 tornado resulting in 158 fatalities and more than 1,000 people injured. The "Joplin Tornado" is the deadliest single tornado to strike the U.S. since modern tornado recordkeeping began in 1950.
On that evening the National Weather Service office in Springfield, Mo. issued the tornado warning at 5:17 p.m. with 17 minutes of lead time for the touchdown and 19 minutes of lead time before the tornado entered the city of Joplin.
Here in the Tri-State area when we think of a "Tornado" we picture a damaged roof or a few farm buildings with metal twisted about. We had little experience with which to reference this incident until we watched the tornado's 22.1 mile long and one mile wide path of destruction.
One year later for anyone who has visited Joplin as I have, you can see the spirit of renewal and can stand amazed at the stark contrast to one year ago. But the question remains, what have we learned? That question is one that the National Weather Service sought to answer over the last year and to develop a plan from that knowledge.
The findings, from the people of Joplin, serve as a wake up call to the fact that a tornado siren and your local weathercaster breaking into programming can no longer be perceived as an annoying interruption to our all important activities of that given hour, but a call to alertness and preparation for the worst that Mother Nature can deliver here in the heartland.
From a local weatherman's perspective the results of the Joplin tornado have been: a more advanced radar system across the upper Midwest, an aggressive and attention demanding set of new NWS severe weather warning statements and a heightened state of general public awareness.
As a father, the Joplin tornado has shown me that the sometimes lackadaisical effort to pay attention or react to severe weather warnings is no longer something I will accept from those I love or myself.