High Plains Drifter

disclaimer:  "The meteorological views/forecast thinking expressed are those solely of the author of this blog
and do not necessarily represent those of official National Weather Service forecast products,
therefore read and enjoy at your own risk and edification!"

May 10, 2007

Presidential Visit to Greensburg

Filed under: Editorial,May 4, 2007 Greensburg,Special Cases — Mike U @ 1:11 pm

President George W. Bush participates in a briefing Wednesday, May 9, 2007, at the Emergency Operations Center in
Greensburg, Kansas, during his visit to the tornado-ravaged area. White House photo by Eric Draper (caption and photo from whitehouse.gov) 
I am barely in this picture… that’s my head there at the very bottom-right portion of the photo. 

Wednesday was certainly another wild day for me (and hopefully the last one!).  The evening prior, I received a phone call from U.S. Senator Pat Roberts of KS expressing his congratulations on a job well-done to me and my colleagues at our office that fateful evening.  I was invited to take part in the Presidential visit to Greensburg — more specifically, on a short list of individuals to take part in a closed-door briefing at the makeshift operations control center just outside the courthouse in Greensburg.  We (4 of us including our MIC and WCM) left for Greensburg about 830am or so.  About halfway there, I received a phone call from Air Force One.  I believe Senator Roberts passed along my cell phone number.  The President offered his congratulations on a job well done to me and our office on getting the warnings out in a very timely and efficient manner.  Definitely an honor I’ll never forget!  Receiving a call from Air Force One on my personal cell phone… I still can’t really get over that one. 

Anyway, we arrived in Greensburg after waiting in a fairly long line along Highway 54 and met up with the Director of the National Weather Service who was along with the Central Region Director of the NWS.  It was great to meet these important people of our NWS… especially General D.L. Johnson.  Something completely unrelated… that I just have to mention…  Rock Chalk Jayhawk Go KU!  The General is also a KU alumnus along with me… so we represented the Crimson and Blue well I think :)

After standing around for awhile in the rain, I had to get ready to go into the meeting room where the President was going to conduct a briefing.  After waiting for upwards of an hour it seemed like, the President made it in to the room and we all introduced ourselves and shook the President’s hand.. once again, the President offered his congrats on a job well-done.  Towards the end of the briefing, I believe it was the FEMA Director that wanted to make a special acknowledgement to myself and our staff at NWS-DDC for our performance.  I spoke just briefly before the group, and I just wanted to acknowledge that it was really a well-coordinated effort by the six people we had working that evening in our office that made the flow of information in and out of our office so efficient.  Before we dismissed, Senator Roberts found me and made sure I got in a photo with him and the President. 

After that was all over I met back up with Scott and Larry from our office and we toured the damage so I could see it for myself.  What really impressed me the most was all the brick building damage.  Many of the brick buildings along Main Street were 3 to 4 bricks thick with no real "point of entry" for the wind.  The High School destruction was also unbelievable… an extremely well-built structure from 1937… that was really no match for this tornado. 

Anyway, I was just honored to have been able to represent the National Weather Service yesterday, and it is most obviously a day I won’t forget!

May 8, 2007

An integrated warning system is what saves lives

Filed under: Editorial,May 4, 2007 Greensburg,Special Cases — Mike U @ 10:35 am

I have certainly received a lot of compliments and kudos about how "I" saved lives in Greensburg…  I really appreciate the response and e-mails I have received.  The interview I had with Diane Sawyer on GMA seemed to suggest that it was primarily me that saved lives in Greensburg — and that’s just not the case.  At least that’s how I feel about it.  I just want to make it clear to everyone that it was not just me.  It is the integrated warning system that saves lives… not one and only one person’s sole individual effort.  As the National Weather Service radar and warning operator, my job that night was the most "visible" part of this integrated warning system…thus all the compliments and wonderful feedback I have received (Which I thank you again).  It is our job in the National Weather Service as meteorologists to issue timely warnings and statements when severe weather threatens people.  We really did nothing out of the ordinary in terms of doing our jobs the way we are trained to do it that night.  While I was the meteorologist working the radar and issuing statements for just that particular storm, other meteorologists in our office were making calls and receiving calls concerning reports of what was actually going on on the ground.  

One meteorologist from our office in particular called Kiowa County dispatch at least two times, and I think they called us once concerning the threat for Greensburg specifically.  The very first time they called… about 30 minutes before the tornado hit… we told them.. at the time we did not think that Greensburg would take a direct hit given the latest track of the storm… however we did express some uncertainty in what we told them.  About 10 minutes later, that particular meteorologist called Kiowa County back as it appeared that the Tornado Vortex Signature (TVS) on radar was turning more to the left… in line with Greensburg.  This meteorologist told them that after we analyzed the latest extrapolation of the TVS.  I think we gave them one more call about 10 minutes prior to it hitting that we had high-confidence they were going to take at least a partial hit… if not a direct one. 

Regarding the Tornado Emergency wording in one of our statements.  As the radar operator for that storm, it was largely my decision… in other words… I wanted to use this wording in the statement text… and I ran this by our Lead Forecaster to see if he agreed, which he did, and we ran with it.  We did monitor one of the Wichita TV stations in our office, as we usually do so that we can verify the dissemination of the warnings (at least from the TV media standpoint), and at the one TV station we were monitoring did indeed pick up on our "Tornado Emergency" text with the extreme wording to stress the severity of the situation.  This TV meteorologist did a fantastic job conveying this threat from our statement… The upshot of this blog post is that it wasn’t just me.  Many of the storm chasers were also in on the integrated warning system, too, as they were relaying real-time verification of the large, wedge tornado to their particular TV stations as well as reports coming into our office. 

Many people were involved on Friday May 4th that saved lives in Greensburg, Kansas and surrounding areas that took direct hits. 


May 6, 2007

Good Morning America tomorrow, May 7th

Filed under: May 4, 2007 Greensburg,Special Cases — Mike U @ 9:44 pm

I will be interviewed by Diane Sawyer on ABC’s Good Morning America tomorrow morning.  I am not sure when the segment will air, it will be a taped interview before the show comes on.  Anyway, the topic will be very similar to my blog post — as my account from that night has generated a lot of interest and compliments..  In that respect, thanks so much.  I used a lot of more meteorological terms in my blog post, but in the interview with GMA, it will be more generalized and basic for the average lay person. 

May 5, 2007

A “career storm” — Greensburg, KS

Filed under: Editorial,May 4, 2007 Greensburg,Special Cases — Mike U @ 3:50 am

A "career" storm… from a radar operator standpoint.  It’s 3:00am, I’m still up, but should be going to bed, but I’m just too darned keyed up.  Where do I begin?  The storm of the day erupted at the southernmost end of a cluster of pseudo-organized right and left members to its immediate north.  But the far southern storm that erupted out of nowhere just had that shape.  Not 2 minutes after I issued SVR again for eastern Clark Co for that storm I issued TOR… I didn’t have to wait for strong 0.5 convergence/couplet, whatever.  It took it awhile to get going… about Protection or so… but when it did… it went on to produce a fantastic velocity signature 0.5/0.9 slices north of Protection.  The couplet was tracking more northeast… missing Coldwater to the northwest and approaching highway 183 about 7 SSW of Greensburg.  Velocity rotational couplets were topping out at around 150 knots total shear over about a 1-2 mile radius.  I was just thanking the lord that it appeared to be taking a course to miss Greensburg to the southeast.  The next couple slices, though, frightened me.  The damn couplet was bending to the left…and the next scan was even more to the left… and I didn’t even really give it thought…  the "…tornado emergency for Greensburg…" in my next SVS… it was like instinct – just did it.  Those few minutes after watching one of the most incredible velocity couplets go directly over one of your good sized communities in your CWA… I was just too anxious.  Then the message was sent out… a plea from Greensburg dispatch… "Ford County communications this is Greensburg… we just took a direct hit…".. that came no more than about 3 or 4 minutes after the couplet passed over.  I then immediately sent out another SVS indicating that Greensburg likely took a direct hit.

Thereafter… the steady-state cycling of tornado cyclone…tornado…left turn…. next cycle… tornado, left (north) turn…. next cycle… it was routine… the most steady-state cyclic significant tornadic supercell I had ever seen, let alone work the warnings on radar.  I don’t think that there was 1 minute from the time of the first tornado near Protection….to the time it exited our CWA and headed into the Ellinwood area…that there wasn’t a significant tornado tearing $h1t up….over that 100 mile stretch.  100 miles of steady-state tornado production… I’m not sure how many members there were in this wedge-family.  Just to see hours on end of velocity signatures like this is something I’ll never forget.  Inbounds of 120 knots and higher at times… inbounds only!  Several times throughout the life!  I think the highest we saw was about 150 knots that actually looked like legit data… as in properly aliased. 

Greensburg is pretty much gone.  Especially the western 1/2 of town from what I can surmise from the media reports and interviews.  How many of you are familiar with the Largest Hand-dug Well?  There’s a tall tower that stands proud above that well.  No more.  Completely gone, at least from one of the accounts I heard.  The Big Well is located in the heart of town… and the reports are that downtown and the western portions of town suffered the worst of the damage.  One account I heard of was that when one of the residents looked out their window… they couldn’t see the tower anymore.  They didn’t know where it went.

One of my favorite storm photos of the year so far included Greensburg in the shot.  This was taken about 5 miles west of Greensburg back on March 29th.

So it’s 3am, and at the surface here in DDC it is 72/65F with the short-fuse composite showing 3000 J/kg of CAPE… at 08z!  Winds are howling out of the south southeast… it’s going to be another long day today…

Mike U

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