Case Study Summary_McPhail

I wrote my case study on the Newcastle-Bridge Creek-Moore Tornado: An EF5, 3/4 mile wide, violent storm which devastated Oklahoma City and its surrounding counties. It claimed 36 lives, injured 583, damaged 2,500 houses, and completely destroyed another 1,800. In total, it caused the equivalent of $1.1 billion in loss, making it the fifth costliest tornado in history. Additionally, Doppler on Wheels radar allowed for the highest wind speeds ever recorded globally to be measured during this tornado at 301 mph. The 1999 Moore Tornado belonged to the Great Plains Tornado Outbreak, which in itself was a collection of massive super cell storms which in total spawned 74 tornadoes in a 21 hour time period. Additionally, Moore was also the central victim to an EF3-4 tornado in 2003, and another EF5 in 2013, which I touched on in my paper in order to compare and contrast mitigation and how the community itself remains resilient.

Simply put, the mother storm which produced the Moore tornado was the result of humid air, very high atmospheric instability, and strong wind shear. Beginning just after 6:00 AM, a “slight risk” warning for severe weather was published by the Norman forecasting station, fewer than 10 miles from Moore. Over the next 9 hours, 116 bulletins/announcements from various stations gradually upgraded the warning from slight risk, to moderate risk, to high risk, to, finally, a tornado warning. The tornado touched down in Central Grady County. Generally, it rampaged from Amber, to northern Newcastle, to the southern sections of Oklahoma City, to Moore, through Oklahoma City once again, to Del City, and, finally, into Midwest City. Two smaller, satellite tornadoes also rotated around the main one, adding to the damage. The tornado was on the ground for an astonishing 1 hour, 26 minutes before dissipating.

Oklahomans were no strangers to tornados,  including a few of high caliber. NOAA had also recently undergone a technological upheaval, which modernized stations and equipped meteorologists with new technologies to aid in forecasting/monitoring these storms. Clearly, a small city perfectly situated in the middle of Tornado Alley knew something about its risk, and post-disaster interviews described how the city felt a false sense of security for a few reasons. First, it had prepared with safety drills and public education. Second, the majority of the public felt “tornado apathy,” meaning that many tornado watches and warnings had been issued in the past, and very few of them actually produced any tornado at all. Additionally, a few citizens had private storm shelters. Many residents of Moore had experienced EF0/EF1/EF2 tornados in their lifetimes, and could not comprehend the level of destruction this one event would cause. These factors, more than demographic statistics, influenced Moore’s vulnerability. One particular story described a family who sought shelter in an inner hallway to their home. The only walls left standing after the tornado had passed were those encasing them. Additionally, among the 36 deaths, several of them were children in an elementary school without storm shelters, sparking later debate and policy about how to best protect kids at school in the event of severe weather. Furthermore, many others who sought ill-advised shelter beneath the surrounding interstates were crushed.

The damage path stretched 1,300 feet wide. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, Moore received local, state, and federal workers, volunteers, and aid. Emergency shelters originally housed 1,600, and mobile food and donation centers helped sustain those who had lost everything. Main support systems in the emergency phase were FEMA and the state’s National Guard. It took until the beginning of June for volunteers to clear 58% of the debris left behind. Moore’s residents, for the most part, remained there in temporary housing during the rebuilding process.

Lastly, the tornado highlighted the need for better alert systems, more storm shelters, stronger building codes, and a change in the way the public perceived their risk in the face of a powerful tornado. With the backing of state government, 6,016 storm shelters and 20+ new warning towers had been built just in time for another EF3-4 tornado in 2003. As a result of these mitigation efforts, no fatalities occurred. However, in 2013, another EF5 tornado struck and followed a remarkably similar path to its 1999 sibling. This tornado claimed the lives of 24 people, and resulted in yet more infrastructure review–mostly centered on a large portion of Moore that had been rebuilt below minimal building standards. Overall, this case study highlights that tornado-proofing is virtually impossible due to financial and structural limitations. However, tornado resiliency can be achieved through the right incentives and interventions.

Pictures of the tornado and wreckage below (Sources: and



Colombia Mourns 273 Landslide Victims

After a deadly landslide on April 1st, the rapidly decomposing bodies of almost three hundred loved ones were released to be buried on the 4th as rescuers continued to search for victims littering Southern Columbia following a weekend of flooding and landslides. Originally, 154 victims were reported. However, within three days the number had escalated to at least 273. Desperate families lined up for blocks to search morgues for missing loved ones who had died when several rivers “burst their banks in the early hours of Saturday, sending water, mud and debris crashing down streets and into houses as people slept.” Although the officials sought to bury the bodies as soon as possible to avoid spreading diseases, and began vaccination against infection, many citizens pleaded for a more streamlined process to obtain the bodies of loved ones before decomposition rendered them unrecognizable. Families in the city of Mocoa have spent days and nights “digging through the debris with their hands despite a lack of food, clean water and electricity.”

President Juan Manuel Santos has blamed climate change for the disaster. According to officials, Mocoa had been battered by 1/3 of its usual monthly rain in just one night, which caused the rivers to burst their banks. Others said deforestation in surrounding mountains meant there were few trees to prevent water causing mass movements down bare slopes.

As of last week, more than 500 people were staying in emergency housing. Families of deceased loved ones are due to receive $6,400 in aid, with the government promising to help with hospital and funeral costs.

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January Coldwave in India kills over 40 people

I know that this is a far reach back; however, I hadn’t heard anything at all about this disaster and its impacts until I was browsing the internet today. On the surface, record low temperatures averaging at about 30 degrees Fahrenheit with a few, much lower extremes might seem laughable in Virginia, but throughout the entire month of January, an estimated 41 people were killed in various locations centered around Kashmir, India as a result of a massive, month-long cold wave. In reading various articles, I believe this story highlights one of our fundamental concepts of how we address or fail to address the effects of hazards on more vulnerable populations which then, in turn, became disasters and catastrophes.

Chillai-Kalan is the name for the period of lowest temperatures and maximum snowfall in India, lasting from December 21st to January 31st. However, the lowest temperatures during this cold wave, which was recorded as beginning on January 3, 2017, were felt in Gulmarg at 9.7 degrees Fahrenheit, Kargil at 7 degrees Fahrenheit, and Kashmir at 3.9 degrees Fahrenheit. Rain and snowfall battered areas without any form of heating. The banks of Dal Lake in Srinagar froze. At least 41 people died, some due to traffic accidents as a result of the lingering fog and lack of visibility, and others due to exposure or other reasons. Additionally, five people were killed in resulting avalanches near the Kashmir area in the last days of the month, while fifteen soldiers died in other avalanches in neighboring sectors. These temperatures reflect the coldest January experienced in over 50 years, along with many other record-breaking snowfall accounts.

I found it interesting that I couldn’t turn up anything about overall, widespread mitigation efforts, only individual rescue teams organized for specific avalanche events which impacted army camps, nor any personal accounts or interviews.

Kashmir, valley, Gulmarg, Kashmir snow, Kashmir snowfall, valley snowfall, Gulmarg snowfall, Gulmarg snow, Gulmarg Cold wave, india news


4.1 Magnitude Earthquake strikes Oklahoma

Initially rated as a 4.4, U.S. Geological Survey officials have downgraded an earthquake which struck a northern, remote area of Oklahoma this past Wednesday at 10:37am. Shaking was most felt by Grant County, in between Medford and Deer Creek, about 95 miles north of Oklahoma City. Grant County Emergency Management director, Brandon Fetters, stated that the quake “struck an isolated area and there are no reports of injuries or damage.”

In recent years, thousands of earthquakes have been recorded in the state of Oklahoma. Many can be linked to the underground injection of wastewater from oil fracking operations. Due to the upswing in somewhat low magnitude earthquakes, environmental and policy regulators have directed oil and natural gas producers to close up several water disposal wells and/or reduce the injected volume of fluids.
As a result of oil and natural gas companies’ endeavors, further internet research shows these startling statistics in Oklahoma alone:

  • “15 earthquakes in the past 7 days
  • 113 earthquakes in the past 30 days
  • 1,410 earthquakes in the past 365 days”

Additionally, an earthquake tracker link has been provided at the bottom, which logs the locations, magnitudes, and times of all of Oklahoma’s earthquakes. Just on the first page of the earthquake statistics, it appears that Oklahoma has experienced at least one low-magnitude earthquake every day for the past ten days.


Earthquake Tracker:


Nepal Government Bulldozes a still In-Use Relief Camp from 2015 Earthquake

Although not a natural disaster in and of itself, Nepal’s decision to destroy a relief camp housing 2,000 people in bamboo and plastic huts certainly is tied to its mitigation efforts from an earthquake which devastated Nepal in 2015. The political move served as a final bid to force displaced people to return to their home villages and rebuild, as many of them still lie in ruins almost two years later.

The earthquake killed 9,000 people and claimed nearly one million homes. Over the past two years, reconstruction has moved at a snail’s pace, with Nepal’s government’s attention divided between recovery management and an ongoing political crisis. Police in riot gear stood outside of the bulldozed relief camp last Tuesday to contain the forcibly removed residents and eject them from the area, located in the nation’s capital.

This camp, among others, was meant to serve as a temporary shelter for the survivors of Nepal’s worst natural disaster in one hundred years. Government bureaucrats are encouraging poor, displaced people to take the government-provided relief money and to go rebuild on their own. The plan seems to openly ignore the country’s existing lack of infrastructure, organization, and attention to their most vulnerable populations. So far, 76,000 homes have been rebuilt, as government figures show, and 553,000 families have received $500 in aid. This contrasts with the government’s original figures two years ago, which determined that more than 600,000 families were hit by the quake, and each was entitled to $2,000 in aid.

Bimal Dulal, 52, a laborer and former resident of the bulldozed camp (Kathmandu) since the earthquake stated: “I don’t have any house of my own to rebuild and can’t find any room on rent to move from the camp.”


Nepalese police personnel stand guard as makeshift shelters are being demolished at the displacement camp for earthquake victims at Chuchepati in Kathmandu, Nepal March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar


Lava Explosion on Mount Etna

A group of BBC crew members and tourists found themselves under fire by boiling rocks and steam in triggered when lava flow came into contact with fallen snow  on March 16th. A total of ten people were injured in this event. The eruption came from a crater on the south-eastern side of the mountain, and caused “lava flow mixed with steam… [a] huge explosion, [and] the group was pelted with boiling rocks and steam.”

This marks the third time in three weeks that Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano, has erupted, spewing lava up to 200 meters upwards. The volcano overshadows Catania, Italy. The volcano  is reportedly still erupting, but the situation is under control. Due to its proximity to densely populated areas, Mount Etna is always being closely watched. As one of the sixteen “decade volcanoes,” Mount Etna is part of a project which encourages study and awareness with the goal in mind of achieving a better understanding of the volcanoes and their dangers, and be able to mitigate the impacts of natural disasters.

It is worth noting that Mount Etna is known for bursting to life up to several  times a year. The last major eruption took place in 1992. The town of Zafferana Etnea fell directly in the path of the lava flow, and while homes were buried by lava, no one was killed.

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NSW Battered by More Thunderstorms

In just the most recent of the string of natural misfortunes to befall New South Wales, on Monday, damaging winds up to 90 kph and heavy rain and hail were predicted to hit. Places such as Tenterfield, Dubbo, Tabulam, Drake, Baryulgil, and Narromine stood in the path of a low-pressure system that travelled across the state, with over 100mm of rain forecasted to fall on Inverell. The storm moved south with 70mm of rain forecasted to drench Sydney, Australia today.

A New South Wales SES spokesman, Phil Campbell, stated that “emergency services are quite concerned about the super cell thunderstorm.” As of yesterday, no emergency calls had been received, which may be in part due to the bureau’s mitigating efforts in the forms of preparedness reports and social media reminders and up-to-date predictions.

Samples of the bureau’s social media updates, as well as pictures and quotes, found here:


New South Wales Heat Wave Causes Massive Gas-Fired Power Plant Failure

At the end of last month, gas-fired power plants in NSW failed as temperatures soared during a massive heatwave. Authorities immediately began to take steps to prevent outages, including cutting demand from the Tomago aluminium smelter. The record breaking heat wave put enormous strain on the electricity supply starting around February 10th and continuing through the rest of the month. State government urged the public to reduce energy use during the time frame; however, several area-wide outages still resulted.

Media reports found gas generation failed at EnergyAustralia’s Tallawarra power plant due to the immense pressure as a result of the heatwave. Another plant, the Colongra gas-fired plant, was unable to start due to low gas pressure in its supply lines. Output was also significantly reduced from “two of AGL’s 500MW coal-fired power units at the Liddell power station.” The mass failures left over 2,000MW lacking during peak periods of demand. Additionally, thermal generators also suffered a decrease in their outputs, while solar and wind generation “reduced by 300MW in line with forecasts for that time of the day.” Tomago aluminium smelter was also asked to reduce its demand by 290MW for just one hour to cope with the losses, and the action was described as a “last resort.” As a result, three pot lines were shut down and workers toiled in 80 degree Celsius heat within the smelter to restore its equipment.

Another quote from Aemo’s Report stated that “these factors… combined to overload the New South Wales interconnections with Queensland and Victoria, creating an insecure operating state.” Fairfax Media reported to residents in Victoria that they may suffer blackouts to allow for the “transmission lines between two states to operate at full capacity.”


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NSW Bushfires: Village of Uarbry Claimed

Uarby, a tiny community north of Mudgee, New South Wales,  has reportedly been almost totally wiped out by this past weekend’s series of bush fires. Nine of its twelve homes were claimed, as well as its surrounding farmland, which has taken substantial damage. A total of nineteen homes across the state were also confirmed as almost totally wiped out in Warrumbungle, Port Macquarie, Kempsey and Narrabri, and more damage is expected to occur. The fire also claimed the historic Tongy Station, which was built in the early nineteenth century. Flame heights in one area of the state were reported as standing taller than many of the region’s buildings. As of Monday, the threat level was downgraded to an “alert;” however, communication with the impacted areas has remained sparse as a result of failed phone and power lines. Although a relatively small disaster, reports state that the weekend’s events have shattered records for the number of warnings issued by phone in New South Wales: 1.5 million across the state.

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