When Warnings Don’t Work

Historians in the News

TORNADO experts had seen it all before: whole neighborhoods obliterated, big-box stores flattened, even a hospital badly damaged.

But what really shocked them about the powerful storm that struck Joplin, Mo., last week was the toll in lives: more than 125 and counting. “We thought we were done with the 100-dead tornadoes,” said Thomas P. Grazulis, a tornado historian in St. Johnsbury, Vt. “With warnings and Doppler radar, there was a lot of feeling that we were done with this stuff.”...

Mr. Grazulis, the historian, said that no doubt some people in Joplin would rebuild their homes and include storm shelters, which can cost about $5,000 or more. “But I bet Joplin will not be hit again for a hundred or a thousand years,” he said. “The people that build these shelters — generations are not going to have to use them.”

Instead, the next disaster will happen elsewhere. And right now, Mr. Grazulis said, “the next town that needs them has no idea it needs them.”

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