NOAA 98-R223

Contact: Patrick J. Slattery            FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
         Randee Exler                   June 23, 1998


ORLANDO - Praising Florida's emergency management community for its excellent warning coordination efforts during February's tornado outbreak in the central part of the state, a National Weather Service assessment team noted today that a transient population of wintertime visitors is particularly vulnerable in severe weather situations.

Assessment Team Leader Lynn P. Maximuk, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service's Kansas City forecast office, reported that the team recommends enhancing efforts to increase public tornado awareness in Florida. Partnerships between the National Weather Service, emergency managers and the media could make the state's tornado preparedness equal to that for hurricanes. The team also recommends continued NOAA Weather Radio promotion efforts to further ensure public safety.

"Emergency management agencies in Florida and state residents are well versed in hurricane preparedness and safety - probably the best such program in the country," Maximuk said. "Educating residents and visitors about tornadoes and severe thunderstorms to that same level would be a significant life-saving accomplishment. Increased use of NOAA Weather Radio, broadcast directly from our forecast offices, would provide an additional level of increased public safety."

"Florida is known more for smaller, weaker tornadoes than for the powerful, F3- rated tornadoes with wind speeds of 158-206 mph that hit Central Florida in February, but I think that event proved residents and visitors need to be prepared for severe weather, even late at night," Maximuk said.

While coordination between the Weather Service, emergency management, and broadcast media in providing warning information to the public was excellent, Maximuk said, the timing of the tornado strikes and a blended population of full-time and seasonal residents posed a serious challenge. He said the team interviewed many seasonal residents who had heard tornado warnings issued by the Weather Service. Most took no protective actions because they weren't sure where they were located in relation to where tornadoes were reported, or were not aware of local places in which to seek adequate shelter in mobile home and RV parks.

"We determined that warnings were issued and disseminated in advance of all seven tornadoes that occurred that night," Maximuk said. "The warning and dissemination process worked well. The fact that they occurred from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. meant many people were in bed asleep with no sure way of receiving the warning information. A tone alert NOAA Weather Radio could have provided enough advance warning for people to seek proper shelter or take other mitigating actions."

A system of supercell thunderstorms produced the havoc the night of February 22-23, according to the survey report, spawning seven tornadoes, three of which were rated F3 on the Fujita scale, which rates tornadoes on a scale of FO to F5 depending on wind speeds and damage caused. Two of the tornadoes caused little damage, but the five others killed 42 and injured more than 260 people. Some 3,000 structures were damaged and more than 700 destroyed in Brevard, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Sumter, and Volusia counties, resulting in more than $100 million in damages.


NOTE: The Central Florida Service Assessment Report can be found at the following Internet address: