Joe’s Weather Blog: A preventable tragedy (FRI-7/20)
This blog will deviate a bit from the typical weather blog…we’ll get to our weather locally more tomorrow and/or Sunday.
This blog will deal more with the tragedy that happened yesterday down towards Branson and Table Rock Lake. In my opinion this shouldn’t have happened. There were so many signs about what was to come…so many “warnings” if you will. Warnings that, if even half-way paid attention too…could’ve prevented the whole situation from occurring.
First things first. This was a tragedy. Sometimes within our weather community…all of us have this screaming from the rooftop view that “why don’t people pay attention to warnings”! This is easier said than done. Imagine you’re one of the folks on an outside tourist attraction. Odds are you would rely on whomever is in control to steer you in the right direction with regards to any emergencies that might develop. When it comes to weather though…these days things have changed somewhat.
Nowadays almost every person has some sort of weather app on their phone. Almost every person is familiar with looking at radar and surmising that a storm is coming. This should be ESPECIALLY true IF your business revolves around the weather and safety is of utmost concern.
The National Weather Service did their job yesterday. The Storm Prediction Center did their job…and the WATCH for severe thunderstorms went out around 11:30 AM yesterday (almost 8 hours before the tragedy).
So the initial WATCH was there.
As the day unfolded storms bubbled up across eastern KS…there were near 80-90 MPH winds towards the west of the KC area during the mid afternoon hours. As that disturbance tracked towards SW MO…numerous wind reports of 50-70 MPH came in from eastern KS towards SW MO after 3PM or so. On the following animation of clouds/radar…look towards the bottom. See KSGF…that’s Springfield…see KFWB…that’s Emerson airfield…or the West Branson Airport. Now look for KBBG…that’s Branson.
You can see the raging line of storms coming in…
Again…the history of the storms had so many reports of strong winds and wind damage.
As these storms approached the Table Rock Lake area…about 30 minutes plus, before the tragedy occurred, the NWS issued a severe thunderstorm warning for storms coming from the north.
Note that at 7PM…as the tragedy was about to occur…an update went out.
Note as well the increase in potential winds…to near 70 MPH.
Now obviously(!) the customers aren’t paying attention to the weather warnings (probably) as much as the company should have been.
To reiterate…the initial warning went out at 6:30 PM…any weather app would have shown this and or had the radar to back up what was coming. The video shows the strong winds and the large waves. It doesn’t take much for 50-70 MPH winds to create 2-5 foot waves in a matter of minutes.
What probably occurred is the outflow from the storms to the immediate north hit first…this stirred up the Lake…then the actual thunderstorm occurred.
You can see how the 2nd boat…the one that sank…was getting lower and lower in the water…this is a result of the boat taking in water. Once a boat is in this position…and with it taking on the incoming waves on the side and not bow (head) first…it’s troubling to say the least. I grew up around boats…and one of the 1st things I learned was that you always want to point the bow (or front of the boat) INTO the oncoming waves…it’s rough but the shape of the hull allows the water to spread away from the main areas of potential water entry into the boat. it’s amazing how quickly water can enter a boat, if it’s compromised.
Thankfully there were enough survivors that we should get an strong and reliable story of what actually occurred.
Again I don’t understand how the company can willingly allow a boat to go out in the conditions that were going to occur. Perhaps there was a consideration, depending on the timing of the departure, that “let’s watch the storms up north…perhaps they’ll break apart or weaken”…whatever. That I can sort of wrap my mind around…BUT once the warning went out, some 35 minutes before the tragedy occurred…they should’ve returned as quickly as possible. Maybe they were trying to. That we don’t know yet.
The storm was moving somewhat quicker than usual for July. Close to 35-45 MPH…again though…even IF it was moving at 60 MPH…when that warning went out…that still gives about 15-plus minutes to get into a safe area just in case.
Here’s the other thing…and one that needs to be brought up…even IF the storm’s history was lessor winds…let’s say something more typical of a summer thunderstorm…what about the HIGH risk of lightning! Wouldn’t you think that the company wouldn’t want to be out on a Lake when lightning is dancing all over the place. That’s one aspect of this that I still can’t wrap my mind around.
This was preventable…where the actual blame lies remains to be seen and that’s what the investigation will determine.
I have stressed to our news department NOT to write about how this was a “surprise” or it “came without warning” in our news copy…folks who personally dealt with the storm…that’s another story perhaps. The information was out there…the data was convincing…the warnings were in place…and yet it still happened.
So what more could the weather community have done? Is there any more? This is something that the community will look at as a whole. At some point…the information is out there…isn’t it up to the one’s who are most sensitive about safety to obtain the information? To reiterate…I’m NOT talking about the customers…I’m talking about the decision makers. Sometimes from a weather community standpoint after these types of situations…we always question ourselves…sometimes to detriment. Perhaps some of the forthcoming interviews of the business involved will get around to the plethora of warnings that are issued and whether or not that is a consideration in how they operate…and perhaps these warnings are ignored now because they are so frequent. Perhaps a business with outdoor safety in mind will say…you know…if I stopped doing work EVERY time a severe thunderstorm warning is issued…I’ll be out of business. For southern MO they come often there. This is something I’d be curious about. When the Joplin tornado occurred one of key pieces of research was the abundance of tornado warnings and the “warning fatigue” that occurs. As you know this is something that I talk about often and will be presenting at a conference to my colleagues in the weather community next month.
There will be more to learn about the decision process and the events that occurred…that I recognize.
I’d like to hear your opinions on this.