May 22,2011, like many other days through the Spring, I was routinely checking my radar software waiting for storms to fire up along an approaching dry line from Kansas. The line had already created storm warning towards KC, Mo and the southern end was just reaching south central Kansas. With plans to go eat with my parents around 4 pm I thought we had better move the time up as much as possible due to the impending front. Unlike a lot of people that day I was aware of the possibilities and knew the atmosphere was primed for severe weather. I have been a "weather bug" for as long as I can remember and I consider weather my most enjoyable hobby. With the humidity in the 70's, dew point in the mid 60's and the temp around 81, I knew this was not a good combination. The first cell formed, if I remember correctly, about 4-5 counties to the west in the early afternoon.
We ate at a local Joplin restaurant and left around 4 pm. I noticed some friends of our neighbors sitting near us. We had met them a few times and they actually used to live in our house prior to us moving in. Little did she and her children know that in about an hour and half their apartment complex would be demolished around them as they did their best to ride out one of the most powerful and deadliest tornadoes in recent history. Life can change in an instant. It could have been very easily the last time we saw them alive. They were lucky and unfortunately many were not.
I continued to watch the radar and we were put under a tornado warning around 5:10pm. I felt uneasy but not fearful. The storm had kept the distinct shape of a super cell and there had been reports of a wall and funnel cloud 10 miles west of us (Carl Junction). Then another tornado warning was issued to the south near Joplin. A small cell had formed quickly over Cherokee County, Ks, directly west of Joplin. The cell spawned on the southern edge of the cell that was just entering Carl Junction. The next 30 minutes will take the lives of over 150 people that may have had no idea the weather was forecasted to include severe weather and tornado risks.
The HAZARDOUS WEATHER OUTLOOK (HWO)
The hazardous weather outlook is information delivered from the NWS. It indicates the risk levels of severe or dangerous weather that we may experience in the next 24-48 hours. It's made to check at a glance and is an easy way to decide whether to keep those afternoon picnic plans. The hazardous weather outlook (HWO) is not candy coated and it is not delivered from the deep voice of your local DJ. Which may only say that it there is a chance of an afternoon storm. I am often irritated that the weather updates from local tv and radio do not go into more detail about the weather forecast. Unless you read the detailed weather forecast text from the NWS then your basically not getting the information you need to be fully aware of impending severe weather and the chance of tornadoes. I am hoping that this event will make more people "weather bugs" like me. My hobby may have saved my life that day. It kept me aware of the threat and I was able to plan my day around it.
This is the HWO. Make it a habit to read everyday!