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                   Wednesday, February 23, 2011 - 6:32AM CST

A failed system: Classic unwarned icy bridge outbreak in St. Louis

By DAN ROBINSON
Editor/Photographer
25 Years of Storm Observing
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NEWS REPORT: Mass casualty pileup on I-64 in St. Louis

As the Facebook, Twitter and blog feeds of expeditioners light up about a possible tornado outbreak on Thursday that will likely end up as a non-event, the weather is currently causing a real hazard to the public in St. Louis. It's a scenario that happens time and time again in the winter all over the US. Rain showers traversed the entire state of Missouri overnight toward subfreezing surface temperatures, a classic signature for road icing. Yet all systems failed with this morning's event. No warnings or advisories were in effect even after the chaos started, and road condition web sites for both Illinois and Missouri failed to report the icing until well after the worst of it was under way. Even news media was caught scrambling, with sources slow to update with information about what was happening until it was mostly over.

This event is simply a classic example of the dichotomy between real versus perceived risks maintained by both the general public and the field of meteorology. The ingredients for this hazard were plainly obvious well in advance, yet all of our systems failed to take action to get the word out and give the public a fighting chance to prepare.

Since I stumbled on this problem and began awareness efforts three years ago, it has been frustrating to keep getting ignored, even rebuffed, by much of my professional and avocational peers about the idea that changes need to be made in NWS policy, warning criteria and public education on non-tornado type risks. I suppose as long as sensationalism about our beloved tornadoes and severe thunderstorms keeps all of us entertained, it's OK if hundreds more keep dying and thousands more hurt from other hazards that get no attention.

I have a whole other blog post about this upcoming - but this event demonstrates that the field of meteorology, both professional and hobbyist, is concerned only about pursuing their own pet interests (tornadoes, severe storms, lightning, etc) and not about what actually can make a difference in people's lives. Now please understand that I'm not necessarily criticizing individual forecasters or offices here. Rather, my primary concern is the overarching climate of favoritism (and sometimes obsession) toward convective severe weather, along with official policies and criteria that keep non-thunderstorm events like this from getting the attention they need.

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