Weather Officials Defend Warnings
CLEVELAND (AP) _ Weather officials say Ohioans had as much warning as they could possibly get before killer tornadoes touched down, but a National Guard officer said today that one town that had no deaths may have benefitted from an improved siren warning system.
Twelve Ohioans were killed, 11 in Trumbull County, when the twisters carved a path of destruction across northeastern Ohio and into Pennsylvania on Friday. In all, 86 people died in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Ontario, Canada.
″I feel very comfortable with what we did,″ said Marvin E. Miller, chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Cleveland. ″We’re not at all perfect. Our science is not perfect. But I feel our office did a fine job.″
Miller met Monday in Pittsburgh with weather officials from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington at a mandatory critique of how well the service warned people of the tornadoes.
Miller said the Cleveland office issued its first tornado watch at 4:25 p.m., with the first tornado warning about 5 p.m. A watch means conditions are ripe for a tornado to occur. A warning means one has been sighted.
GEkz1/8 S-MV7/8 U9 W41′x6c3/8 ne)s7/8 qm-//oO/ZMiller said. ″Tornadoes will pop out of a (weather) front. It’s the first anyone knows it. It’s very rare to pick it up on radar.″
He said four tornadoes occurred without warnings, three during severe thunderstorm warnings and two while tornado warnings were in effect.
″We had 18 severe thunderstorms that evening,″ Miller said. ″We had warnings out prior to the beginning of 14 out of the 18.″ He said a severe thunderstorm either has to have winds in excess of 58 mph or hail three- quarters of an inch or larger in diameter.
Robert Matanick, a Cleveland weatherman, said there were forecasts of potentially severe weather for Ohio a full day before the tornadoes hit.
″The severe weather was talked about,″ said Miller. ″We were pretty sure it was going to happen. But we couldn’t say exactly where it would happen.″
The Trumbull County communities of Newton Falls, Niles and Hubbard Township were hardest hit in Ohio. Eleven of the state’s 12 tornado deaths occurred in Niles and Hubbard Township.
In Columbus, Maj. Calvin Taylor, a spokesman for the Ohio National Guard, said Newton Falls had a better siren warning system than Niles, which may explain why no one was killed in that community, southwest of Warren.
″The siren system in Niles was not as fully developed as in Newton Falls,″ he said.
Taylor, who is compiling information about the number, distribution and activation of sirens in Niles and Newton Falls, said sirens went off in Newton Falls soon enough for about 150 people in an American Legion hall to take shelter under tables shortly before the hall was demolished by the tornado.
″They have to know the proper thing to do,″ he said. ″We used to tell them to try to open windows (to relieve the interior pressure). Now we tell them just to seek shelter.″