4

Tornado Warning Dissemination

Severe weather information was generally well disseminated in the Reeves County and Midland/Odessa areas the day of the devastating tornado. The most effective methods of delivering weather forecasts and warnings were the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 's (NOAA) weather wire, commercial television, and a radio station in Pecos. The nearest NOAA weather radio transmitter is near Odessa, but its range cannot reach Reeves County or Saragosa. Several outstanding cases of delivering weather information to area residents were noted.

NOAA WEATHER WIRE SERVICE

The size of Texas and the number of NWS offices in the state entering data necessitate three NOAA Weather Wire Service (NWWS) circuits. The West Texas NWWS is headed by the Lubbock National Weather Service Forecast Office. Prior to divestiture of the telephone industry in 1984, there were 100 subscribers to the West Texas NWWS. It is estimated that there are about 56 subscribers now. Some subscribers have discontinued the service for various reasons, including cost of the system due to tariff increases, the slow speed of the archaic circuit (only 75 words per minute/ 56.9 baud), and service from other sources, such as high-speed news wire services from the Associated Press (AP), United Press International (UPI), Texas State Network news (TSN), 1 and private meteorological information sources. In October 1985, TSN began passing, via satellite, the NWWS information to its 148 affiliate stations throughout Texas at no additional cost. All three major television networks in the Midland/Odessa area have NWWS. An independent television station in Odessa does not subscribe to



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NATURAL DISASTER STUDIES: SARAGOSA, TEXAS, TORNADO 4 Tornado Warning Dissemination Severe weather information was generally well disseminated in the Reeves County and Midland/Odessa areas the day of the devastating tornado. The most effective methods of delivering weather forecasts and warnings were the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 's (NOAA) weather wire, commercial television, and a radio station in Pecos. The nearest NOAA weather radio transmitter is near Odessa, but its range cannot reach Reeves County or Saragosa. Several outstanding cases of delivering weather information to area residents were noted. NOAA WEATHER WIRE SERVICE The size of Texas and the number of NWS offices in the state entering data necessitate three NOAA Weather Wire Service (NWWS) circuits. The West Texas NWWS is headed by the Lubbock National Weather Service Forecast Office. Prior to divestiture of the telephone industry in 1984, there were 100 subscribers to the West Texas NWWS. It is estimated that there are about 56 subscribers now. Some subscribers have discontinued the service for various reasons, including cost of the system due to tariff increases, the slow speed of the archaic circuit (only 75 words per minute/ 56.9 baud), and service from other sources, such as high-speed news wire services from the Associated Press (AP), United Press International (UPI), Texas State Network news (TSN), 1 and private meteorological information sources. In October 1985, TSN began passing, via satellite, the NWWS information to its 148 affiliate stations throughout Texas at no additional cost. All three major television networks in the Midland/Odessa area have NWWS. An independent television station in Odessa does not subscribe to

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NATURAL DISASTER STUDIES: SARAGOSA, TEXAS, TORNADO NWWS. The Emergency Broadcast System (EBS)/CPCS-1 station in Midland uses TSN/NWWS as does the KIUN-AM/KPTX-FM radio station in Pecos, 30 miles north of Saragosa. LAW ENFORCEMENT TELETYPE SYSTEM Another key dissemination system in Texas is the Department of Public Safety's (DPS) Law Enforcement Teletype System (LETS). From the DPS headquarters center in Austin, all DPS offices, county sheriff's offices, and police departments have a drop on this circuit. A special AFOS (automation of field operations) asynchronous line2from NWS Austin sends Texas severe weather watches, warnings, and statements to the DPS headquarters in the state capital. A drop on this circuit exists at the DPS and sheriff's offices in Pecos. NOAA WEATHER RADIO Of the 27 NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) transmitter sites in Texas, the one closest to Saragosa is near Odessa. However, its signal does not reach Saragosa, which is about 90 miles southwest of Odessa (see Figure 5 ). NWR is monitored by television channels 2, 7, 9, and 24; the EBS station in Midland; and KKKK-FM in Odessa. TV-9 displays the Midland NWS radar image and carries the NWR broadcast between its sign-off time around midnight and its sign-on time at 6:15 a.m. EMERGENCY BROADCAST SYSTEM A meeting to establish EBS operational areas in west Texas was held on April 19, 1978, in Midland. The designated EBS CPCS-1 station for the Midland area was and still is KCRS-AM. A postdisaster visit was made to KCRS. Because no log seems to exist of the times that EBS may have been activated on Friday, May 22, it was not possible to verify whether EBS had been activated for the 7:54 p.m. tornado warning for Reeves County although KCRS stated that EBS was activated for the 7:54 p.m. tornado warning for south-central Reeves County. Interviews with several radio and television personnel indicated that while EBS was activated for other warnings during this event, they did not recollect EBS activation for the 7:54 p.m. tornado warning. Nevertheless, due to the redundancy of dissemination of the tornado warning and to the close monitoring by media personnel, the apparent lack of EBS activation probably had no serious adverse impact in this case. KCRS subscribes to both TSN and NWWS, but the station's wire service unit does not have a “bell feature”3 when warnings are received.

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NATURAL DISASTER STUDIES: SARAGOSA, TEXAS, TORNADO FIGURE 5 NOAA weather radio coverage—Midland/Odessa and Big Spring transmitters. TELEVISION AND THE CABLE SYSTEM Television signals from Odessa and Midland reach the Saragosa area. Television and newspaper accounts indicated the operation of a very basic cable television system in Saragosa that had 40 to 45 subscribers. Most cable subscribers were probably watching Univision, the popular Spanish-language entertainment station. Cable stations do not carry severe weather warning messages. Television stations 2, 7, 9, and 24 display a warning symbol in a lower-screen corner when a severe thunderstorm or tornado watch or warning is in effect, and they use “crawls” or live cut-ins, as necessary, to disseminate

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NATURAL DISASTER STUDIES: SARAGOSA, TEXAS, TORNADO NWS warnings. “Spots” are occasionally run to tell viewers what the symbols mean. KMID TV, Channel 2, the Midland ABC station, carried a severe weather statement on the screen at 7:10 p.m. At 8:03 p.m. the 7:54 p.m. tornado warning crawl for south-central Reeves County was repeated followed by a weather cut-in from 8:11 to 8:13 p.m. Tornado warning crawls are normally shown on screen twice, back to back, and are repeated every 15 minutes. KOSA-TV, Channel 7, the CBS affiliate in Odessa, carries weather crawls at 10-minute intervals for tornado warnings and 20-minute intervals for tornado watches and severe thunderstorm warnings. The station has a drop on NWS Midland's WSR-57 weather radar using a Kavouras system.4 At 3:00 p.m., KOSA began its weather news breaks. These breaks are 30-second live cut-ins by the station's weathercaster with the latest weather information. The normal 30-second break was lengthened to 1 minute on the 3:00 p.m. broadcast, which highlighted the high potential for severe weather. Live cut-ins were made throughout the afternoon and night at 3:35, 4:02, 7:50, 8:01, 8:30, 8:49, and 9:16 p.m. The 7:50 cut-in featured the severe thunderstorm and flash flood warning, and the 8:01 and 8:30 cutins highlighted the tornado warning. The NBC station, KTPX-TV, Channel 9, ran the 3:30 p.m. warning issued by NWS Midland as well as the 7:37 and 7:54 p.m. warnings. A live update was given at 8:01 p.m. explaining the tornado sighting by spotters, the wall cloud report, radar indications, and the need for people to be alert. The tornado warning was broadcast via a crawl at 8:21 p.m. KPEJ-TV, Channel 24, the independent television station in Odessa, has no news or weather staff. Its broadcast signal does not reach the Saragosa area of Reeves County. The station provides viewers with weather information obtained from NWR and EBS. During the evening of May 22, the station ran several weather crawls and displayed the severe weather watch and warning symbols on the screen. RADIO Radio stations in Odessa do not serve Reeves County. KJJT-FM in Odessa is a Spanish-language station operating from 6:00 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. daily. It is doubtful that coverage reaches the Saragosa area. Moreover, for undetermined reasons the only source of weather information used by station personnel is local television, and, unfortunately, the personnel on duty the night of the Saragosa tornado did not notice any tornado warnings on television and thus did not broadcast any. Saragosa is served by KIUN-AM and KPTX-FM in Pecos. The KIUN program is conducted in Spanish from 7 to 10 p.m. Programming on the

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NATURAL DISASTER STUDIES: SARAGOSA, TEXAS, TORNADO night of the tornado was in Spanish and English. KPTX is English only. Interviews with the manager and radio operator on duty the night of the storm indicated that the station did provide warning dissemination service during the tornado. KIUN-AM is a 1,000-watt station, and KPTX-FM is a 3,000-watt station. KIUN has emergency power and also has NWWS via TSN. The station monitors KCRS in Midland for EBS information. Station personnel also monitor police reports on a scanner. There is no logbook showing the times that warnings were provided on the AM/FM stations, but interviews with the radio operator on duty indicate that they were broadcast almost immediately upon receipt of the announcements. Around 7:37 p.m. the KIUN radio operator on duty heard at least two reports on the station's police radio scanner, one from a DPS trooper when he called in his spotter report while at the 210-mile marker on Interstate 10 and a second for help in Saragosa. The 7:54 p.m. tornado warning was broadcast about 8:00 p.m. in Spanish and English along with many tornado safety rules. The safety rules were taken from NWS Midland literature. Several days after the disaster KIUN allotted 30 minutes to “slowly” repeat weather safety rules. The radio operator on duty at the KPTX (broadcasting in English only) frequently broke in during the broadcast of a baseball game to give the latest weather information, including the severe thunderstorm and flash flood warning between 7:37 and 7:45 p.m. SIRENS In mid-1986 free surplus siren systems were offered to the towns of Saragosa, Balmorhea, and Toyah. Each town was responsible for installation and maintenance of the system. Saragosa never responded to the offer; Balmorhea and Toyah accepted. The emergency management director for Pecos and Reeves County believes that Saragosa's unincorporated status and the absence of a city government may have contributed to the lack of response. PECOS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY The Pecos DPS office receives weather information over high-speed LETS equipment. The DPS dispatcher broadcasts severe weather information to all DPS units as soon as possible. NWS Midland called the Pecos DPS by telephone to say that it was going to issue the severe thunderstorm and flash flood warning at 7:37 p.m. and to solicit information about the storm.

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NATURAL DISASTER STUDIES: SARAGOSA, TEXAS, TORNADO PECOS/REEVES COUNTY EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT OFFICE AND SHERIFF'S OFFICE Warnings are received in the Emergency Management Office in Pecos via DPS radio, with hard copies available from the DPS or Reeves County sheriff's office. The EOC office often calls the sheriff or DPS office to request information about warnings and other matters. The sheriff's office has the DPS LETS teletype circuit and did receive the 7:54 p.m. tornado warning. According to the sheriff's office, 16 mobile units were on duty to spot storms. A deputy county sheriff in Balmorhea and a DPS trooper were also trying to get closer to the storm. The sheriff was the first to arrive in Saragosa after the tornado and provided the first word on the disaster to the sheriff 's office. NATIONAL WARNING SYSTEM There are an estimated 50 National Warning System (NAWAS) 5 drops in Texas, including the Pecos DPS office and NWS Midland. Due to the size of the state and the number of users, the circuit is not always used for severe weather purposes. Additionally, the effectiveness of the LETS system circumvents the need to use NAWAS routinely. NWS Midland did not encounter communication problems with LETS and did not use NAWAS in the Saragosa tornado. SUMMARY Information collected on the Saragosa disaster shows that there were many activities connected with the dissemination of weather announcements about the storm throughout the region. These weather announcements probably elicited the desired protective responses from people threatened by the storm. Information on severe weather was distributed by the television stations in Midland and Odessa and by radio station KIUN/KPTX in Pecos. People in Saragosa who were watching noncable television programs or listening to KIUN/KPTX had opportunities throughout the afternoon to become aware of the storms and of the tornado warning for south-central Reeves County. Nevertheless, despite the dissemination activities all indications are that most of the residents of Saragosa were unaware of the impending danger. If the ultimate criterion in judging the effectiveness of Saragosa's warning system is whether the tornado warning reached those at risk, it must be concluded that the warning system failed. Overall, the dissemination system in the major metropolitan areas functioned well. It proved more difficult to reach people in rural areas, especially unincorporated communities like Saragosa. While the Midland and

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NATURAL DISASTER STUDIES: SARAGOSA, TEXAS, TORNADO Odessa EBS plan appears to be adequate, procedures at the CPCS-1 station may need to be reviewed and strengthened. NOAA weather radio adequately serves the Odessa, Midland, and Big Spring areas but not distant communities such as Saragosa. Fortunately, TSN provided a major public service in distributing Texas weather wire data to its 148 affiliate stations, including KIUN in Pecos. The TSN is an extremely valuable asset that should be replicated in all states. NOTES 1. TSN is a network of commercial radio broadcasters across Texas. It provides a variety of information services to its affiliates, including weather information received from the NWWS. 2. AFOS refers to the computer equipment used in NWS offices for the storage and retrieval of weather information as well as the composition of alphanumeric weather products. The asynchronous line refers to a communications outlet or port that permits the distribution of warning and forecast products to outside users. 3. The bell feature refers to the capability to sound an alarm on receiving printers with certain warning and watch products. 4. The Kavouras system is a private enterprise that furnishes NWS radar data to other external users. The service is provided via equipment at each NWS radar site that processes the radar signal and allows the data to be accessed by other agencies or firms. 5. The NAWAS is a hotline-restricted telephone system used by federal, state, and local authorities for rapid communication of critical information. In Texas users include all NWS and DPS offices.