NOAA 00-R201
Contact: Scott Smullen


A suite of new technologies, coupled with inter-office communication and staff dedication, played major roles in the National Weather Service issuing life-saving warnings that provided Owensboro, Ky, residents more than 20 minutes to take shelter from a devastating winter tornado that struck Jan. 3. The agency's Paducah, Ky., office provided advance warnings as tornadoes, downbursts and severe thunderstorms raked southern Illinois, southern Indiana, and northwest Kentucky.

Weather Service Director John J. Kelly Jr. said reports indicate the fact that no lives were lost during the strong F-3 tornado could be directly attributed to capabilities provided by the Automated Weather Information Processing System (AWIPS).

"The staff at our Paducah office was able to issue a tornado warning that gave Owensboro emergency management and local residents 27 minutes to take protective actions," Kelly said.. "The warnings were issued based strictly on data retrieved on AWIPS. Shift forecasters were able to simultaneously evaluate several separate products that provided data on different parts of a large storm system, and to dial into the Louisville WSR-88D radar to examine the storm from another angle.

"Being able to analyze different types of data and to discuss what was being seen with Louisville forecasters in real time gave us a real jump in getting out the warning. We've always preached that early warnings save lives, and that was clearly demonstrated in this case."

Tornado sirens in Owensboro were sounded by emergency management when the first tornado warning for the city was issued by the Weather Service at 3:43 p.m.; the F-3 tornado moved into Owensboro at about 4:20 p.m. Preliminary surveys of the damage areas showed more than 750 homes and businesses destroyed or heavily damaged, about 18-20 injuries, but no deaths.

"Even two years ago, our forecasters couldn't have operated like this," Kelly said. "They could have talked on the phone, but would have had to sort through several products in a sequential order as they decided to issue a warning. Being able to see from one another's radars and do several task at the same time gave them the edge they needed to issue warnings so quickly."

Kelly said the advantages provided by modern technology shouldn't be given all the credit for keeping residents safe from serious harm. "The new technology worked as it was designed to and certainly helped the Paducah forecasters do their jobs," Kelly said, "but in the final analysis, what made the difference was the well-trained and professional staff who delivered for the residents in their county warning area in a very high pressure situation. My compliments to them."