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Early warning always the best idea

By Staff
Dec. 20, 2000
Officials of the Jackson office of the National Weather Service have conceded they simply blew the call Saturday in failing to warn residents in Lauderdale County of what became a powerful and destructive F-2 tornado.
Winds estimated at between 100 and 130 miles per hour hurled debris, blew down trees and caused great devastation in the Russell and Dalewood communities. At least 21 people were injured, the most seriously of whom was Katrina Hodges, of Willow Lake Road. Family members say she is lucky to be alive. Ms. Hodges remained in a Jackson hospital, facing surgeries and a long recuperative period from injuries sustained in the tornado.
The question of whether she would be safe, on the job and enjoying life with her family today if she had been forewarned of the tornado bearing down on her home will forever remain unanswered.
But suffice it to say, early warnings of impending weather likely to produce such storms are always preferable to the alternative. In fact, when it comes to protecting the public, there is no other alternative than a system which produces timely warnings that enable people to get out of the path or seek immediate shelter.
In the current situation, officials disagree on whether a NWS facility equipped with Doppler radar here in Meridian would have helped. We say it couldn't have hurt.
A great deal of work needs to be done to improve the NWS' ability to adequately scan developing weather conditions and, when necessary, warn east Mississippians of tornadoes. The NWS opted out of Meridian in 1995, but says facilities in Jackson and Alabama are adequate.
Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., and U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., are on NWS' case for this latest failure. As they should be, since NWS is a federal agency.
Pickering says he will work with the incoming Bush administration to find a solution.
While we welcome the influence of Lott, Pickering, the Bush administration and whoever else may join in finding a solution, this issue should not be political. It is a matter of public safety.
Out of concern for the safety of the general public in east Mississippi, the National Weather Service should immediately restore a Doppler radar system in Meridian. This system  and the personnel necessary to run it should give forecasters an immediate, detailed and meaningful advantage in protecting lives.