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      Is Amarillo ready for a tornado?

      Damage caused by the 1949 tornado

      It TMs been a busy winter in the High Plains this year. Several winter storms brought waves of heavy snow, near-blizzard conditions, and icy roads. For each of these rounds of rough weather, Amarillo city officials, TxDOT, and a host of other organizations communicated, planned, and prepared for what was headed our way.

      Now, we begin to transition away from the icy grip of Old Man Winter and head toward the threat of powerful spring thunderstorms and the possibility of destructive tornadoes.

      So, does the city of Amarillo have a plan to deal with a major tornado? What is the plan? How will the plan be implemented?Before we answer those questions, here TMs a little history for you: It TMs been a while since Amarillo has had to deal with a significant tornado.

      On May 15th, 1949, an F-4 tornado moved through the south side of Amarillo then tracked to within less than a mile of the airport. Seven people were killed, and 82 others were injured. More than 200 homes were either damaged or destroyed. The tornado caused $5 million in damage, making it the costliest tornado to hit Amarillo. This was also the last killer tornado to impact Amarillo.Some people feel Amarillo is overdue for a direct hit from a major tornado. If that TMs the case and this year happens to be our turn in the barrel, then you TMll be glad to know the city of Amarillo is about as ready as they can be with a comprehensive plan to deal with such an event before, during and after the storm.Kevin Starbuck is the Emergency Operations Coordinator for not only the city of Amarillo, but also all of Potter and Randall counties. His responsibility is simple: plan for the worst. Then when the worst happens, synchronize a response.

      At his fingertips is a brand new 750 thousand dollar emergency operations center complete with more than 50 telephone lines, nearly 40 computers, and 16 radio communication stations. According to Starbuck, the plan with informational briefings from the NWS before the storm even forms.As the day progresses, typically the NWS will host a coordination call with local meteorologists, with the local media, with emergency managers, with other officials basically to get us up to speed on what the potential is for the day, said Starbuck.Once a storm shows signs of being capable of producing a tornado and a warning has been issued, Starbuck said emergency managers quickly transition to warning operations mode, using the outdoor warning sirens, and the television cable cut-in system advising people to check their local stations.After the storm has passed, getting into the hardest hit areas and treating the injured becomes the highest priority. Starbuck explains how the emergency response plan addresses that issue. The plan pulls in the city TMs utilities, public works, fire departments and law enforcement in order to gather information on the scope of the impact on the community. As the information comes in, protecting and saving citizens is the priority.While it TMs impossible to plan for every scenario, Starbuck said he feels the city of Amarillo has the best possible response to a major disaster.

      Government|and certainly local media can provide warning, and we TMre all trying to get that information to you, but you have to have a plan to know what you TMre going to do and take action when that warning is issued to protect you and your family from the potential impacts from a severe weather event.

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