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,
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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. 



  1. As retired Director of the Radar operations Center in Norman, I send my kudos to the entire staff
    at Dodge City. I was animating both the reflectivity and SRM all evening. The signatures were
    truly amazing. The closest I can recall was the Oklahoma City storm of 5/3/99. I watched that tornado from the 2nd floor of the ROC. I was also watching the streaming video from a Wichita TV Station.

    Your work really makes an old-timer proud to have been a member of the NWS. Please pass on my
    regards to larry Ruthi.

    Jim Belville

    Comment by Jim Belville — May 8, 2007 @ 11:42 am

  2. Mike,

    I could not agree with you more! The *entire* warning process kept this tornado from being another Udall. Extremely timely NWS warnings, along with the work of the TV, radio and local emergency management folks saved lives Friday night. I don’t know (and don’t care really) if it was our station you were watching. Like you, I’m not here to toot my own horn. I’m simply grateful that the word got out…period! Eleven people dead is heartbreaking but there’s NO doubt in my mind it could have been much worse had the whole process not worked.

    Rodney Price

    Comment by Rodney Price — May 8, 2007 @ 12:02 pm

  3. Mike – you and the rest of the guys and gals involved did a great job that night, as I mentioned on Stormtrack. It was a very fast moving and volatile situation, and it seems everyone remained calm, cool and collected.

    As a meteorologist in the UK, I sometimes have to make decisions or issue certain types of warnings, but in general for much lower end severe weather than you guys deal with – as such, I can, in some ways, imagine the workload that night.

    One day, I know we will get a major tornado in the UK, but our warning system for severe convective weather is practically non-existant at the moment. As such, I, and a few others, look to the US for the methodology and expertise to deal with such a situation, should it ever arise (and I really hope it doesn’t).



    Comment by Paul Knightley — May 8, 2007 @ 12:11 pm

  4. Hey Mike,
    I thought you might have been the forecaster on duty that night. Glad to see you where, the towns folk of Greensburg thankfully had you oon duty that night! Good work.

    Comment by Verne Carlson — May 8, 2007 @ 1:59 pm

  5. Great job and kudos to your entire office. Every year there are dozens of mets staring at that radar that make the calls that save lives. You and your office just happened to be staring down the barrel of a maxinado that garnered a lot of attention. Enjoy the visibility; there is nothing better for the NWS as a whole than to have these positives when there are all the efforts to privatize so many of the functions.

    Oh, and one more thing, you have sure grown up since 1997 ;)

    Comment by Richard Halter — May 8, 2007 @ 3:28 pm

  6. Warnings are the result of lots of different people doing lots of different things to make them happen. It’s a community effort. I think that perspective came through clearly in all of your posts/interviews. You’ve done a lot to educate people on spotting, reporting methods and severe weather safety on this side of the state, so don’t give it a second thought.

    Comment by Mike Peregrine — May 8, 2007 @ 6:09 pm

  7. Understandably a team effort and congratulations to the entire DDC staff – one that was obviously well prepared. As I read your warning text of the initial TOR WARN, and especially the TOR EMERG, I took great pride in knowing you. Kudos to the entire staff there, which cooperated fully with our coverage. Have a great visit with President Bush today, an honor well deserved.

    Comment by Matt Makens — May 9, 2007 @ 12:12 pm

  8. [...] And then there is this, mike u’s recent high plains drifter blog entry about the advance warning given at Greensburg, Kansas from the point of view of the National Weather Service. [...]

    Pingback by planet pooks Why Stormchasers Chase Tornados « — May 10, 2007 @ 11:09 am

  9. Congrats on a job well done!

    Comment by Karen Eagle — May 12, 2007 @ 7:45 am

  10. Mike…
    Just a qucik kudos to you and and the entire staff, as Jay went over the tor emergency while I was doing my phoner, here I had a mile+ wide tornado filling up my horizion… I think that was when I really understood the reality of the
    situation. I thank you.

    Comment by Lanny Dean — May 13, 2007 @ 2:14 am

  11. Again, kudos Mike for a fine job that evening. Does GLD (or any other NWSFO) have access to infrasonic data (http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/programs/infrasound/)? If so. has anything interesting been observed with the Greensburg tornado family or any other tornadoes this year? If not, have you heard of any interesting signatures. Either way, is the data available anywhere, and do you have anything else to add on the subject?

    Comment by SAK — May 23, 2007 @ 7:34 am

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