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Kevin M. Simmons and Daniel Sutter

Abstract

Conventional wisdom holds that improved tornado warnings will reduce tornado casualties, because longer lead times on warnings provide extra opportunities to alert residents who can then take precautions. The relationship between warnings and casualties is examined using a dataset of tornadoes in the contiguous United States between 1986 and 2002. Two questions are examined: Does a warning issued on a tornado reduce the resulting number of fatalities and injuries? Do longer lead times reduce casualties? It is found that warnings have had a significant and consistent effect on tornado injuries, with a reduction of over 40% at some lead time intervals. The results for fatalities are mixed. An increase in lead time up to about 15 min reduces fatalities, while lead times longer than 15 min increase fatalities compared with no warning. The fatality results beyond 15 min, however, depend on five killer tornadoes and consequently are not robust.

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Kevin M. Simmons and Daniel Sutter

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This paper extends prior research on the societal value of tornado warnings to the impact of false alarms. Intuition and theory suggest that false alarms will reduce the response to warnings, yet little evidence of a “false alarm effect” has been unearthed. This paper exploits differences in the false-alarm ratio across the United States to test for a false-alarm effect in a regression model of tornado casualties from 1986 to 2004. A statistically significant and large false-alarm effect is found: tornadoes that occur in an area with a higher false-alarm ratio kill and injure more people, everything else being constant. The effect is consistent across false-alarm ratios defined over different geographies and time intervals. A one-standard-deviation increase in the false-alarm ratio increases expected fatalities by between 12% and 29% and increases expected injuries by between 14% and 32%. The reduction in the national tornado false-alarm ratio over the period reduced fatalities by 4%–11% and injuries by 4%–13%. The casualty effects of false alarms and warning lead times are approximately equal in magnitude, suggesting that the National Weather Service could not reduce casualties by trading off a higher probability of detection for a higher false-alarm ratio, or vice versa.

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Kevin M. Simmons and Daniel Sutter
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Kevin M. Simmons and Daniel Sutter

Abstract

The impact of the installation of Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) radars in the 1990s on the quality of tornado warnings and occurrence of tornado casualties is examined. This analysis employs a dataset of tornadoes in the contiguous United States between 1986 and 1999. The date of WSR-88D radar installation in each National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office is used to divide the sample. Tornado warnings improved after the installation of Doppler radar; the percentage of tornadoes warned for increased from 35% before WSR-88D installation to 60% after installation while the mean lead time on warnings increased from 5.3 to 9.5 min and the false alarm ratio fell slightly. A regression analysis of tornado casualties, which controls for the characteristics of a tornado and its path, reveals that expected fatalities and expected injuries were 45% and 40% lower for tornadoes occurring after WSR-88D radar was installed in the NWS Weather Forecast Office. This analysis also finds that expected casualties are significantly lower for tornadoes occurring during the day or evening than late at night throughout the sample, which provides indirect evidence of the life-saving effects of tornado warnings.

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David Merrell, Kevin M. Simmons, and Daniel Sutter

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Over the past several decades, engineers have made significant progress in the design and construction of structures able to withstand tornadic winds and debris. The aftermath of the 3 May 1999 F5 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, highlighted the modest market penetration of tornado shelters in metropolitan areas. The authors use historical data from Oklahoma to estimate the potential casualties that tornado shelters could prevent and calculate that the cost per fatality avoided in single-family homes is $29 million while the cost per fatality avoided for mobile homes is $2.6 million. The estimates are sensitive to the proportion of strong (F3 or stronger) tornadoes and the choice of an interest rate for present-value calculations. If the F-scale distribution of Oklahoma tornadoes resembled a reported national frequency distribution and fatalities per category storm are held constant, the permanent home cost per fatality avoided triples to $88 million.

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Kevin M. Simmons, Paul Kovacs, and Gregory A. Kopp

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In April 2014, the city of Moore, Oklahoma, adopted enhanced building codes designed for wind-resistant construction. This action came after Moore suffered three violent tornadoes in 14 yr. Insured loss data and a rigorous approach to estimating how much future damage can be mitigated is used to conduct a benefit–cost analysis of the Moore standards applied to the entire state of Oklahoma. The results show that the new codes easily pass the benefit–cost test for the state of Oklahoma by a factor of 3 to 1. Additionally, a sensitivity analysis is conducted on each of the five input variables to identify the threshold where each variable causes the benefit–cost test to fail. Variables include the estimate of future losses, percent of damage that can be reduced, added cost, residential share of overall losses, and the discount rate.

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Seth P. Howard, Kim E. Klockow-McClain, Alison P. Boehmer, and Kevin M. Simmons

Abstract

Tornadoes cause billions of dollars in damage and over 100 fatalities on average annually. Yet, an indirect cost to these storms is found in lost sales and/or lost productivity from responding to over 2000 warnings per year. This project responds to the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017, H.R. 353, which calls for the use of social and behavioral science to study and improve storm warning systems. Our goal is to provide an analysis of cost avoidance that could accrue from a change to the warning paradigm, particularly to include probabilistic hazard information at storm scales. A survey of nearly 500 firms was conducted in and near the Dallas–Fort Worth metropolitan area asking questions about experience with tornadoes, sources of information for severe weather, expected cost of responding to tornado warnings, and how the firm would respond to either deterministic or probabilistic warnings. We find a dramatic change from deterministic warnings compared to the proposed probabilistic and that a probabilistic information system produces annual cost avoidance in a range of $2.3–$7.6 billion (U.S. dollars) compared to the current deterministic warning paradigm.

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Melvyn Shapiro, Jagadish Shukla, Gilbert Brunet, Carlos Nobre, Michel Béland, Randall Dole, Kevin Trenberth, Richard Anthes, Ghassem Asrar, Leonard Barrie, Philippe Bougeault, Guy Brasseur, David Burridge, Antonio Busalacchi, Jim Caughey, Deliang Chen, John Church, Takeshi Enomoto, Brian Hoskins, Øystein Hov, Arlene Laing, Hervé Le Treut, Jochem Marotzke, Gordon McBean, Gerald Meehl, Martin Miller, Brian Mills, John Mitchell, Mitchell Moncrieff, Tetsuo Nakazawa, Haraldur Olafsson, Tim Palmer, David Parsons, David Rogers, Adrian Simmons, Alberto Troccoli, Zoltan Toth, Louis Uccellini, Christopher Velden, and John M. Wallace

The necessity and benefits for establishing the international Earth-system Prediction Initiative (EPI) are discussed by scientists associated with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) World Weather Research Programme (WWRP), World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), International Geosphere–Biosphere Programme (IGBP), Global Climate Observing System (GCOS), and natural-hazards and socioeconomic communities. The proposed initiative will provide research and services to accelerate advances in weather, climate, and Earth system prediction and the use of this information by global societies. It will build upon the WMO, the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) and the International Council for Science (ICSU) to coordinate the effort across the weather, climate, Earth system, natural-hazards, and socioeconomic disciplines. It will require (i) advanced high-performance computing facilities, supporting a worldwide network of research and operational modeling centers, and early warning systems; (ii) science, technology, and education projects to enhance knowledge, awareness, and utilization of weather, climate, environmental, and socioeconomic information; (iii) investments in maintaining existing and developing new observational capabilities; and (iv) infrastructure to transition achievements into operational products and services.

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