I have several things to say about this.
Firstly, I’m dismayed at how unprepared Lambert was for a severe weather event (or natural emergency of any kind).
“[Airport Director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge] does acknowledge that operations center staff failed to make the tornado warning announcement over the airport public address system. But defends her staff saying the tornado came up quickly and by the time they realized it was going to hit the airport, there was only time for the staff to seek shelter. “
That excuse might have worked ten years ago, but in this day and age with all the advancements we’ve made, I’m not buying it.
This video is an interview with her, where she also says something about a fine line between ensuring the safety of the people in the terminal and disrupting operations needlessly.
Which just makes me want to smack her.
Further feelings of violence happen about two seconds later when she says, “And the warnings that were put out were not specific for Lambert, that Lambert is in the ter—-you know, it’s—-the tornado’s—-Lambert’s path.”
Lady, nowadays they have this thing called a polygon. It was implemented in October 2007. Here’s some text from the NWS office in Indianapolis, Indiana:
The polygons for storm based warnings are drawn by NWS Meteorologists based on where the greatest threat for severe weather is.
Did you see that? Greatest threat.
Which means that if you’re in a polygon for a tornado warning, you get your ass (and the asses of all the people you’re in charge of) to shelter.
As meteorologist James Spann (ABC 33/40 out of Birmingham, AL) likes to say, “RESPECT THE POLYGON.”
Thirdly, pointing out that there were no deaths or serious injuries does not make up for the fact that airport employees failed to relocate the public in a timely manner (meaning more than a minute before the tornado hit). Lambert was lucky. There very well could have been deaths or serious injuries, but the airport got lucky. I’m sure that had the tornado maintained the strength it had when it hit the area along Old St. Charles Road (EF4), there wouldhave been deaths or serious injuries at the airport. Hell, in this video, nobody gets up until the windows start moving!
Fourth: In my opinion, if the people in charge of protecting the public know there is a chance for severe weather, they should be monitoring it. Should a severe storm approach the airport, employees and officials should have passengers move away from the windows and towards shelter. Should the need arise for the occupants of the airport to take shelter (meaning there is a tornado warning or equivalent), they can then do so with greater haste (and hopefully less chaos).
Fifth: Lambert is making drastic improvements to its system in regards to weather, which I good. I commend them for it. That doesn’t take away from the fact that there wasn’t an even halfway decent warning system in the first place. The National Weather Service had issued a tornado warning saying there was a tornado on the ground thirty four minutes before it hit the airport, and yet the Operations Center was completely unaware of it until it was bearing down on them!
The TL;DR version is this:
Lambert Airport seriously messed up regarding the issuance of warnings to the public, the director just made excuses, they’re working on improving the alert system, and you should always respect a severe warning polygon.