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NOAA asks to hear public's tornado experience for research, improve alerts

Tornado storms
Posted at 12:59 PM, Jun 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-06 18:31:58-04

TULSA, Okla. — Oklahoma is all too familiar with severe weather. Snow, ice, hail, and, of course, tornadoes are just some of the weather people across the Sooner State can experience.

While the "traditional" severe season is set to end for Oklahoma as we transition into the summer months, that doesn't mean a tornado can't happen at any time.

If you receive alerts or a tornado impacts your community then NOAA scientists want to hear from you.

A new online tool is providing ways for people to anonymously tell their tornado experiences. Tornado Tales was developed by researchers at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) that will be used to better interpret how people receive alerts and how they respond to them.

2 News got to speak with project coordinator Dr. Justin Sharpe, a research scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Severe and High-Impact Weather Research and Operations (CIWRO), about Tornado Tales.

"If you've been under a tornado watch or tornado warning, even if a tornado didn't necessarily occur for you, it's important to report what you did, how you prepared, how you didn't prepare," Sharpe explains. "[The survey] gives us a collective idea about how the public is responding to the National Weather Service watches and warnings."

Sharpe says over 110,000 people are exposed to tornadoes yearly in the United States. That's why this survey specifically wants to hear about what people experience if a tornado impacts them or their community.

Tornado Tales is a project that has been over two and a half years in the making. Sharpe says he was inspired by the USGS and how they gathered information about earthquakes. He immediately thought: "why don't we have this for tornados?"

Soon the idea became reality. In a similar fashion, Tornado Tales is in a survey format and simple to use. It asks basic questions to collect information about how they prepared for severe weather and how they responded if an alert went out.

Some of the things the survey asks are:

  • An option to say where you were when the tornado occurred
  • If you received either a watch or warning alert
  • If you sought out shelter and whether you felt safe

This information is set to help NOAA identify where their messages may not be resulting in effective actions to be prepared and safe when a tornado happens.

"Tornadoes can surprise people. They can happen at night, they can happen in winter," says Sharpe.

Some tornados are even not recorded or seen on the radar. The point behind Tornado Tales is the NOAA wants to know where the possible tornado occurred and whether an alert went out for people to react to.

"People want to tell their stories and it's important for them to tell their stories as well because that's how we learn as a scientific organization," Sharpe says. "This is why it's citizen science because we are relying on the tales of citizens, the experience of citizens, and that feeds things back to us."

The information gathered by the Tornado Tales tool is designed to be for research, but can also be used by other social scientists, emergency managers across the United States, and even National Weather Service forecasters.

Right now, there's only an English version of Tornado Tales available but Sharpe says they are working on providing a Spanish version in the future.

To share your story, you can take the Tornado Tales survey here.


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