(SILVER SPRING, Md.) — When it comes to escaping the path of a tornado, every second counts.
So when an unpredictable, massive storm system that produced over 75 reported twisters began brewing in the Plains states over the weekend, the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center took the unusual step of issuing dire warnings in advance, using phrases like “life-threatening event” and “catastrophic.”
For the next few weeks, the NWS will be studying whether these series of warnings, using specific, powerful words, will make a difference in helping people survive these vicious storms.
Mike Hudson, a meteorologist for the NWS, said the test conducted over the weekend worked. “Early indication says that our warnings did help people make decisions in order to deal with the storm and it ultimately saved lives,” Hudson said.
Some NWS offices issued warnings that sounded almost Armageddon-like. On Saturday morning, the weather service in Wichita, Kan., warned that residents “could be killed if not underground or in a tornado shelter” and that “mass devastation is highly likely, making the area unrecognizable to survivors.”
“What we’re attempting to do with impact-based warning is to address risk,” Hudson said. “People make a decision based on experiences they’ve had in the past. By using words that describe what’s going to happen, people will make appropriate decisions and seek shelter.”
Typically, warnings are issued minutes prior to storms hitting a given area, and even people who live in towns with tornado sirens have been caught off-guard. Over the weekend, in Woodward, Okla., 20 tornado sirens failed to sound after the power had been knocked out. Six people were killed, including three children.
“The nighttime tornadoes are extremely dangerous…and the sirens are one part of the warning system puzzle,” Hudson said. “Ultimately the important thing is getting that information.”
Hudson said that that being underground is the safest place to be in a tornado. But for those who don’t have a basement, Hudson advises going to a room in the middle of the house or a storm shelter. Do not be outside or in a mobile home, he said.
“Best advice for people living in areas prone to tornadoes: Have multiple ways to get information about the threat,” he said. “Take action on it and make decisions that could save your life.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio