The Norman Transcript

December 14, 2011

Group wants nation prepared for the perfect storm

By Hannah Cruz
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Despite improved technologies and communications in the last 50 years, 12 separate severe weather events in 2011 in the United States caused a record number of deaths and $52 billion in damages.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service is now redoubling its efforts in hopes of improving public safety for the future.

A total of 180 professionals gathered Tuesday in Norman at the National Weather Center for a workshop titled “Weather Ready Nation: A Vital Conversation,” to discuss potential public extreme weather safety improvements. The three-day workshop ends Thursday.

Russell Schneider, director of NOAA storm prediction center, said the event brought together professionals from around the nation in many disciplines — including physical and social scientists, emergency managers, researchers and media and government representatives — to identify ways to improve the public’s awareness, preparedness and response to extreme weather.

“What we’re hoping to do is start the process and get this very diverse group of leaders to begin to row in the same direction and realize that no one of us can solve the problem individually — it’s going to take us working together in each of our communities,” he said.

Though forecasts and warnings were done well from a meteorological perspective for each of 2011’s 12 weather events — including blizzards, tornadoes, droughts, heatwaves, floods, wildfires and a hurricane — Schneider said the record-breaking social and economic impacts the events caused left many wondering what went wrong.

The resulting damage highlighted the need to bring professionals from different backgrounds together to discuss the many facets involved with a severe weather event, he said.

Topics discussed at the workshop on Tuesday included the improvement of NOAA forecasts and warnings for severe weather, improving communication to the public, weather research challenges and priorities, and community planning and resilience.

A variety of panelists during these discussions explored various ideas such as improved building codes, possible government safety incentives and programs, and the various platforms to communicate weather watches and warnings.

Keli Tarp, NOAA representatives, said attendees will split into small groups today and tomorrow to discuss goals formed from Tuesday’s discussions.

CNN meteorologist and weather anchor Jacqui Jeras said she is impressed by the workshop and feels the convergence of so many “brilliant minds” will be able to find the start to a solution for the future.

“Information is power,” she said. “The more people know the more likely they are to take action, but it really is a community effort. You really have to work from the ground up from educating kids in school, from working with county emergency managers, to the weather service, as well as the broadcaster, to get that information out.”

Though the problems involved with extreme weather are numerous, Jack Hayes, director of National Weather Service, said NOAA hopes the discussion will at least propel action in a positive direction.

“This community keeps trying to find a 100 percent solution,” he said. “I don’t believe there’s a 100 percent solution. In my remarks this morning I said I’m willing to take a bite out of the problem and let the next generation say ‘We’ll take the next bite out,’ because this is such a huge problem: protecting Americans.”

Findings and recommendations from the workshop will be released in early 2012, Tarp said.

Video presentations from the workshop are available after each talk at nwc.ou.edu/wrn, and a Twitter feed of the workshop is available at #WRN.

Hannah Cruz 366-3540 hcruz@normantranscript.com