Watch Out Above!

So how ironic is this.  Fall officially starts on Friday morning and on the same day we will be monitoring an old weather satellite falling to earth.  I know the odds of anyone on earth getting hit by this satellite sound low at 1 in 3,200. Now,  If you know someone who has been hit by a piece of space junk, raise your hand.  Yeah, this is indeed a ridiculously off calculation, which realistically your odds are truly better of being hit by lightning or winning the lottery.  The major flaw when the odds makers were figuring this all out is they apparently neglected to mention that a large percentage of the earth's surface is made up of water (well over 90%), and that if you were the one person out of the seven billion calculated on earth, it would be more like 1 in a few trillion of this bus sized satellite rocketing down on you.  As for where this dead satellite will end up, I would go with somewhere in the Pacific.

Meantime, NASA on Thursday revealed that the orbit of this dying satellite would have it on track to be flying around the southern hemisphere during the 11am to 5pm CT window when touch down is expected to take place.  So it appears North America should dodge this latest falling object from the sky. Apparently the last widely publicized crash landing of a detected earth orbiter (not including the space shuttle that broke up in 2002 or other rocket debris) was Skylab in 1979.  Although this was a little before my time, according to an article in the New York Times, there were folks hawking t-shirts and souvenirs in advance of its occurrence.  In the end, it made landfall in western Australia, not injuring anyone, but leading to NASA having to pony up $400 for littering.  I wonder how much the fine would be these days if that happened?

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service came out with their Assessment Report on the EF 5 tornado that struck in Joplin, MO on May 22nd. As you might recall, this twister killed 159 people, injured over 1,000 and resulted in the most fatalities from a single tornado since the Flint, MI twister of June 8, 1953.

Among the various aspects covered in this report are how citizens in Joplin were warned of the impending tornado, along with how they reacted to the threatening weather conditions.  The tornado warning was issued for this twister 19 minutes before entering into Joplin, while a previous tornado warning covering just the western half of the city for a separate storm was issued about 15 minutes earlier.  One of the big issues of concern here was the sounding of the tornado sirens in the area. The initial tornado warning at 5:11pm lead to the first siren sounded, followed by a secondary round of sirens being activated 27 minutes later for this monster tornado just before it rumbled through town.  The big questions are, did folks ignore the first round of sirens, and by the time the second sirens went off, was it too late?  More so, were folks aware of the impending threat for severe weather, outside of looking up at the sky as this supercell storm approached?

To some extent yes, to others no.  One story that is relayed in the report is of a gentlemen who was aware of the changing weather conditions, heard the first sirens but still decided to hop in his car anyway to go have dinner at a local restaurant.  The first restaurant he stopped at had already locked their doors and wasn't allowing anyone inside as they were hunkering down for the approaching tornado.  This person then went to a 2nd restaurant, where the business was operating as usual, unaware of the impending tornado. He went in to sit down, took another look out the window, hear the reports of a tornado in Joplin and then finally made an effort along with the workers & patrons at the restaurant to head to a safe place.

Needless to say, this could be a scenario playing out in Wisconsin if someone wasn't weather aware.  Even with the advancements in technology, we here at Newschannel 7 try to cover as many bases as possible with live coverage on tv, our webchannel, facebook, twitter, along with e-mail or text message notifications.  Still this might not be enough. In the end it could come down to you just looking up at the sky and knowing you're in trouble.  By then of course, it could be too late and life threatening.  This is something that we've been working in tandem with the local National Weather Service Offices in trying to avoid.  Yes sirens can be sounded, and I know there are some counties locally that are trigger happy in sounding them for non-tornadic or non-damaging storms, but it does come down to knowing the weather conditions at hand and checking in with us on Newschannel 7 when these situations arise.

There is much more covered in the assessment report, including the number of false alarms associated with tornado warnings, the effectiveness of the Doppler Radar scans, and how emergency management officials dealt with the situation before and after the event.

All in all, it is unfortunate that so many folks lost their lives for the lessons to be learned of how to better prepare and take action when a devastating tornado strikes.

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