New storm warning systems help save lives during severe weather

April 22, 2014 (CHICAGO)

A powerful tornado devastated the city of Moore, Oklahoma in 2013. The massive storm played out live on local TV, and the Plaza Towers Elementary School was in its direct path.

Danni Legg didn't find out that her 9-year-old son Christopher had perished until the following day. Seven children were among the 24 people killed. Over 1,200 home were destroyed by the tornado which produced winds of around 250mph.

It's been nearly a year since that deadly tornado struck here in Moore. And while there is a lot of construction going on, many neighborhoods like this one remain barren.

Tornado and severe thunderstorm watches are issued at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. Recent technological advancements have enabled meteorologists to issue more timely and accurate predictions.

Dr. Josh Wurmann has led several storm chases where dual mobile Doppler radars have been dispatched in an attempt to get a three dimensional profile of tornadoes. This data has helped forecasters here in Norman better understand the physics of a tornado.

"It's gone into our improved conceptual understanding of what conditions we're looking for. The role of low level wind shear and the role of instability in that wind shear down into the lowest levels of that storm have been turned very successfully into better forecasts," said Bill Bunting, Storm Prediction Center.

Tornadoes of this strength are rare in our area but they do happen. Russell Schneider was born and raised in northwest suburban Barrington and is now the director of the Storm Prediction Center in Norman.

"1920, 1967, 1990: Large, violent tornadoes in the Chicago area do occur and sometimes there are widespread outbreaks. So there is a very high risk and Chicago needs to be prepared," said Schneider.

This map shows the paths of some of the worst tornadoes to strike our area. The last time we saw a deadly tornado was in Utica back in 2004. It's important to make the necessary plans now to make sure you are prepared the next time a tornado strikes.

"The time from when a tornado is spotted to when it's a life and death decision is very short. Have a plan, have an idea of what you want to do with you and your family to stay safe and talk about it before the event and not try to create it on the fly in those last minutes," said Schneider.

If you're indoors, experts suggest you go to the basement or lowest level of your home. Seek refuge in a small closet, stay in an interior hallway or take shelter inside a bathroom without windows.

For more information on severe weather preparedness, visit:

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