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Even Advanced Radar Might Not Have Saved Lives in Kansas Tornadoes With AM-Tornadoes, Bjt

April 28, 1991

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ A powerful radar system being installed around the country could add precious minutes to tornado forecasts, but it may not have saved lives in last week’s Kansas disaster, a top weather official said Sunday.

Conventional forecasting tools gave plenty of warning before at least 48 twisters raked Kansas and Oklahoma on Friday night, said Fred Ostby, director of the National Severe Storms Forecast Center, a Kansas City-based a division of the National Weather Service.

But some people stayed in their homes in a mobile-home park in Andover, Kan., anyway - and 14 died when a twister leveled the park. In all, the tornadoes killed 23 people in the two states.

″The death toll from tornadoes has gone down over the years, due to good forecasts and improved responses,″ Ostby said. ″But if you have ‘x’ number killed, a certain number are killed because they didn’t get the warning or advisory and another percentage because of apathy or ignorance.″

Still better forecasts are possible with the new Doppler radar system, which can identify a tornado taking shape in a cloud, read its speed and direction and project its path earlier and more accurately, Ostby said.

Conventional forecasting tools look for conditions likely to produce a tornado, but initially can identify broad watch areas, up to 25,000 square miles, in which violent weather is likely to occur, he said. A tornado’s path is predicted - and a warning issued - only after it is spotted.

The Doppler system should be installed nationwide in National Weather Service stations by the mid-1990s, Ostby said.

A Doppler system operating Friday in Norman, Okla., 145 miles from Wichita, was too far away to predict the twister in Andover, about 10 miles east of Wichita, The New York Times reported.

But Ostby said it was ″questionable″ whether Doppler radar would have saved lives in Andover.

″There were warnings well in advance,″ Ostby said. ″The pattern they were seeing on radar at Wichita was so strong and suggestive they had already put warnings out.″

A tornado watch was issued for southeastern Kansas and nothern Oklahoma about six hours before the tornado hit. A tornado warning was issued 40 minutes before it struck the Andover mobile-home park, the town’s mayor said.

About 150 to 200 park residents fled to an underground shelter that holds up to 300 people. But others, accustomed to wide-area tornado watches that were not followed by tornadoes, stayed in their homes, local officials said. Andover’s last tornado was in 1958.

″There have been a lot of wolf-cries since 1958, and a lot of close calls,″ said Wayne Duggan, Andover’s emergency coordinator. ″People get a little complacent when it doesn’t happen for a long time.″

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