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Weekly Weather Event -Week of May 17

May 21, 2021

May 22nd marks the 10 year anniversary of the 2011 Joplin Tornado, an EF5 tornado that tore a 6-mile-wide path through Joplin, Missouri. To date, it remains the costliest tornado-related disaster in the United States, with damages estimated at $3.18 billion when adjusted for inflation. After the storm had passed through Joplin, 553 businesses and 7,411 homes were damaged or destroyed, including the badly damaged St. John’s Regional Medical Center and Joplin High School. One hundred fifty-eight people lost their lives as a direct result of the tornado, the deadliest tornado since 1947.

17 minutes before touchdown, the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Springfield, Missouri issued a tornado warning. However, unlike many large and destructive tornadoes, the Joplin tornado was not particularly easy to see from the ground, as rain wrapped around the funnel and obscured its path from ground-based observers. High precipitation super cells have a reputation for obscuring tornados, and the Joplin tornado was no exception.

After the 2011 Joplin Tornado, the NWS put together a Service Assessment of the forecasting and messaging that took place during the storm. While the tornado was well forecasted, the warnings and alert systems that were put in place were not easy for the public to use. This resulted in changes to how the NWS uses alerts warnings. Impact based warnings are now broadly used by the NWS in order to better inform the public on what they can expect during severe weather events.