Deadly Arkansas Twister a Test of Lessons Learned in Storm Prep

Green was out of town at a work site, but his family rode out the storm in a safe room a few miles away.

Kingrey's experience also put another preparedness idea in his head. His father-in-law, outfitted in a heavy coat, did not suffer as many cuts and abrasions as his son.

"I believe we are going to have a tornado survival kit — helmets, eyewear, heavy shoes to put on, heavy clothes to put on," he said, upbeat and positive, standing in the remnants of every material thing his family owned before the tornado came.

Arkansas is one state that provides a significant tax credit for homeowners to install a storm shelter. Oklahoma also offers a fiscal incentive.

In addition to the community safe rooms, Vilonia's officials have invested in other resources. The town's fire department has added full- and part-time personnel, and those personnel have assembled an emergency response trailer that features generators and extrication equipment. The mayor said that the efforts since the 2011 tornado almost certainly saved lives when Sunday's stronger storm swept through.

Jeff Baskin, chief meteorologist at Fox 16 in Little Rock, pointed to improved radar technology, combined with digital mapping capabilities, that provide intricate details of approaching storms. A generation ago, Doppler radar measured whether water droplets were moving toward or away from the radar site. Today, "dual polarization" allows officials to view debris in the air, and images are available in near real-time.

The next generation of improved storm predicting will focus on analyzing data with significant computer modeling, Baskin suggested.

"Much research is going into improving such models so that soon it may be possible to predict where a supercell thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado will come from a couple hours out."

(Photo by Rick Fahr)