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Assessment of NWS County Warning Area Tornado Risk, Exposure, and Vulnerability

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  • 1 Department of Geography and the Environment, Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania
  • 2 Department of Geography and Anthropology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
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Abstract

This study investigates the interrelationships between National Weather Service (NWS) county warning area (CWA) tornado risk, exposure, and societal vulnerability. CWA climatological tornado risk is determined using historical tornado event data, and exposure and vulnerability are assessed by employing present-day population, housing, socioeconomic, and demographic metrics. In addition, tornado watches, warnings, warning lead times, false alarm warnings, and unwarned tornado reports are examined in relation to CWA risk, exposure, and vulnerability. Results indicate that southeastern U.S. CWAs are more susceptible to tornado impacts because of their greater tornado frequencies and larger damage footprints intersecting more vulnerable populations (e.g., poverty and manufactured homes). Midwest CWAs experience fewer tornadoes relative to Southeast and southern plains CWAs but encompass faster tornado translational speeds and greater population densities where higher concentrations of vulnerable individuals often reside. Northern plains CWAs contain longer-tracked tornadoes on average and larger percentages of vulnerable elderly and rural persons. Southern plains CWAs experience the highest tornado frequencies in general and contain larger percentages of minority Latinx populations. Many of the most socially vulnerable CWAs have shorter warning lead times and greater percentages of false alarm warnings and unwarned tornadoes. Study findings provide NWS forecasters with an improved understanding of the relationships between tornado risk, exposure, vulnerability, and warning outcomes within their respective CWAs. Findings may also assist NWS Weather Forecast Offices and the Warning Decision Training Division with developing training materials aimed at increasing NWS forecaster knowledge of how tornado risk, exposure, and vulnerability factors influence local tornado disaster potential.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/WCAS-D-20-0107.s1.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Stephen M Strader, stephen.strader@villanova.edu

Abstract

This study investigates the interrelationships between National Weather Service (NWS) county warning area (CWA) tornado risk, exposure, and societal vulnerability. CWA climatological tornado risk is determined using historical tornado event data, and exposure and vulnerability are assessed by employing present-day population, housing, socioeconomic, and demographic metrics. In addition, tornado watches, warnings, warning lead times, false alarm warnings, and unwarned tornado reports are examined in relation to CWA risk, exposure, and vulnerability. Results indicate that southeastern U.S. CWAs are more susceptible to tornado impacts because of their greater tornado frequencies and larger damage footprints intersecting more vulnerable populations (e.g., poverty and manufactured homes). Midwest CWAs experience fewer tornadoes relative to Southeast and southern plains CWAs but encompass faster tornado translational speeds and greater population densities where higher concentrations of vulnerable individuals often reside. Northern plains CWAs contain longer-tracked tornadoes on average and larger percentages of vulnerable elderly and rural persons. Southern plains CWAs experience the highest tornado frequencies in general and contain larger percentages of minority Latinx populations. Many of the most socially vulnerable CWAs have shorter warning lead times and greater percentages of false alarm warnings and unwarned tornadoes. Study findings provide NWS forecasters with an improved understanding of the relationships between tornado risk, exposure, vulnerability, and warning outcomes within their respective CWAs. Findings may also assist NWS Weather Forecast Offices and the Warning Decision Training Division with developing training materials aimed at increasing NWS forecaster knowledge of how tornado risk, exposure, and vulnerability factors influence local tornado disaster potential.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/WCAS-D-20-0107.s1.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Stephen M Strader, stephen.strader@villanova.edu
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