New study could assist Weather Service in saving lives

Posted: Tuesday, 08 April 2014

TROY - A new Troy University study could help the National Weather Service make tornadoes less deadly.

The study found that in more than 20,000 tornadoes over a 20-year period, tornado watches are not effective in reducing deaths or injuries. The study was published in the March issue of the "International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters" and authored by Dr. Daniel Sutter and Dr. Kevin Simmons of Austin College.

"Our research finds that tornado warnings reduce fatalities and injuries," Dr. Sutter said. "This study sought to discover if tornado watches provide any additional life-saving effects. We could document no such effects."

While Dr. Sutter said that the issuance of tornado watches provided assistance to emergency managers in preparing to quickly respond, watches had little effect on the public's preparedness.

"Our results are consistent with our earlier findings that a point of diminishing returns for tornado warning lead times occurs at around 15 minutes," he said.

The study could assist the Weather Service in beefing up its warning capabilities. Watches are issued by the Storms Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., typically several hours before tornadoes are likely to occur. Warnings, issued at local levels by Weather Service stations, are issued only when a tornado is occurring or imminent.

Dr. Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics in the University's Johnson Center for Political Economy.