QUAPAW — Although technological advancements have provided meteorologists with tools to better predict oncoming tornadoes, the twister that tore through the far northeastern Oklahoma town of Quapaw on Sunday demonstrated gaps can exist in alerting state residents to the immediate dangers of severe storms.
The National Weather Service reported the tornado that killed one man in Quapaw on Sunday was an EF2 with wind speeds between 111 mph and 135 mph. The twister destroyed at least five businesses and 15 homes, and damaged several other buildings, Quapaw Fire Chief Billie Kerley said. Six people were treated at a local hospital for injuries resulting from the storm. The fire station also was damaged, Kerley said.
The tornado occurred without a National Weather Service-issued tornado warning for Ottawa County. Quapaw is home to about 900 residents, according to 2010 U.S. Census data.
Joe Sellers, meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Tulsa forecast office, said the lack of a tornado warning was not a result of malfunctioning equipment or human error — but rather an unavoidable gap in an otherwise effective system.
“I won’t say it happens quite a bit, but there are instances where you may have a severe thunderstorm warning for a particular area and really rapid tornado development occurs without a tornado warning actually being issued,” Sellers said.
“As the radar scans the atmosphere, it takes time to rotate and do all of its volume scans. By the time that data gets back to us, there may have been something occur that we didn’t see until right when it happened or right after it happened.”
Sellers said tornado and severe thunderstorm watches are issued by the Storm Prediction Center when preliminary data indicates the possibility of such a weather event taking place. When radar or a spotter indicates that event taking place, the watch is switched to a warning.
Within its definition of a severe thunderstorm warning, the National Weather Service includes a threat of “tornadoes with little or no advanced warning.”