OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Forecasters who issued dire warnings ahead of last weekend's tornado outbreak in the Midwest deemed the effort a success Monday, largely because dozens of tornadoes hit yet caused only a handful of deaths. But they expressed concern about future public complacency.
The National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center issued a rare high-risk warning days ahead of the storms, sternly urging residents across several states to prepare for "life-threatening" weather. State officials and residents in communities where tornadoes hit praised the effort, noting only six lives were lost.
But many of the tornadoes touched down in rural areas, mostly in Kansas. Forecasters worried that could result in people tuning out future warnings because they were not in this outbreak's path.
"The bottom line is there really is no such thing as a perfect forecast. There are always going to be areas that aren't struck, especially in tornado outbreaks," said Greg Carbin, the center's warning coordination meteorologist. "But the penalty function for missing a significant event is so high, that there's probably a tendency to err on the side of caution."
It was only the second time in the National Weather Service's history that the agency labeled an approaching storm system as "high risk" more than 24 hours in advance. The other time was in April 2006, when nearly 100 tornadoes raked across the southeastern U.S.
Both times, the early predictions were on target.
The storm center determined that 75 tornadoes touched down in Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Nebraska during a 24-hour period beginning at 6 a.m. Saturday. Six people died as a result of an overnight tornado that hit Woodward, Okla., about 140 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. No other deaths were reported.
Residents said the warnings helped. Frank Owens and his wife, Treva, had packed their storm shelter with supplies in advance and spent the day watching local TV forecasts.
"I heard them say we had nine minutes, and that's when I hit the cellar," Owens said.
Meteorologist Rick Smith said he hopes that for residents who prepared and were spared, that their work doesn't lead to complacency.
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