The Norman Transcript


May 26, 2013

What more can we do?



Many people had nowhere to go. After May 3, Oklahoma created a rebate program for people who built shelters, and hundreds of people took advantage. Perhaps that saved lives on Monday.

Then there were issues over shelters at public venues. Meteorologists have long feared that a violent tornado would hit a sporting event, a shopping mall or a school. On May 20, the fear became real. The destruction of Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven children died, is prompting calls for more safe rooms.

After May 3, Bridge Creek Public Schools, southwest of Oklahoma City, expanded its elementary school and all new rooms were reinforced as safe rooms. Kelly Elementary in Moore, also destroyed on May 3, was rebuilt to include safe rooms.

Another lesson from May 3 stemmed from a Texas Tech University study that attracted little interest from state officials. Housing construction was of such poor quality that some homes were destroyed, not by the tornado itself, but by the less-powerful force of inflow, the ground-level winds being pulled into the base of the tornado.

Hurricane straps that secure rafters and anchor bolts that secure the frame can make a difference, especially against less powerful tornadoes. But these also add to home costs.

Construction quality is one reason the Fujita Scale was reassessed after May 3. The Fujita Scale imperfectly measured tornado wind speed based on damage. Damage surveyors had long suspected it took a lot less wind speed to wipe a home off its foundation, and construction quality varies. After 1999, experts created the Enhanced Fujita Scale, or EF scale, which significantly lowered the wind speeds attributed to violent tornadoes and took into account construction quality.

Perhaps the biggest problem is one that forecasters and lawmakers can’t fix: public inaction. As KFOR Meteorologist Mike Morgan implored viewers on May 20, “You cannot delay. You can’t think. You can’t delay. You’ve got to act ...You’ve got to act to save your life and your loved ones’ lives.”

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