The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

November 19, 2013

After twisters, damaged communities come together

(Continued)

"I don't know," she said after a long moment's thought.

Though the powerful line of thunderstorms and tornadoes howled across 12 states Sunday, flattening neighborhoods in minutes, the death toll stood at just eight.

Forecasters' uncannily accurate predictions, combined with television and radio warnings, text-message alerts and storm sirens, almost certainly saved lives.

But in Washington, the hardest-hit town, many families, like the Bocharts, were also in church.

"I don't think we had one church damaged," Mayor Gary Manier said.

Daniel Bennett was officiating Sunday service before 600 to 700 people when he heard a warning. Then another. And another.

"I'd say probably two dozen phones started going off in the service, and everybody started looking down," he said.

What they saw was a text message that a twister was in the area.

Bennett stopped the service and ushered everyone to a safe place until the threat passed.

A day later, many in the community believed that the messages helped minimize the number of dead and injured.

"That's got to be connected," Bennett said as he bicycled through a neighborhood looking for parishioners' homes. "The ability to get instant information."

Another factor was forecasting, which has steadily improved with the arrival of faster, more powerful computers. Scientists are now better able to replicate atmospheric processes into mathematical equations.

In the last decade alone, forecasters have doubled the number of days in advance that weather experts can anticipate major storms, said Bill Bunting of the National Weather Service.

But Bunting, forecast operations chief of the service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said it was not until Saturday that the atmospheric instability that turns smaller storm systems into larger, more menacing ones came into focus.

Information from weather stations, weather balloons, satellite imagery and radar told scientists that there was more than enough moisture — fuel for storms — making its way northeast from the Gulf of Mexico.

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