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Managing a nocturnal tornado: how one manufacturing facility protects its employees and assets from severe weather


When a tornado-producing supercell tracked near a large North Carolina manufacturing plant around midnight, a SkyGuard tornado warning and practiced emergency plan ensured they were well-prepared.

Key Highlights

Unusual event: Deadliest tornado in southeastern North Carolina since 2006

Know your vulnerabilities: On-site equipment takes time to evacuate and secure

Well-executed plan: Immediate action upon receipt of the site-specific warning

A Midnight Tornado in February

Just after 11:30pm on a Monday night in February, a tornado touched down in North Carolina just a few miles from the ocean. It was an anomalous environment with minimal instability - this was the only tornado reported anywhere in the Carolinas. In fact, the only other tornadoes that day occurred in Florida and Georgia hours earlier.

“A warm front moving northwest across the eastern Carolinas caused significant low-level spin in the atmosphere, which allowed the tornado to form,” said SkyGuard Operations manager and senior meteorologist, Tyler Dewvall.

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When Minutes Matter

As one of the world’s leading producers of fiber-based packaging, pulp and paper, International Paper has many facilities across the globe and utilizes SkyGuard® as an integral part of their emergency action plans. 

Tim Gill, environmental health safety and sustainability manager for International Paper, doesn’t recall local coverage of an overnight severe weather threat on that February evening. So it took him by surprise when he woke to a call from an AccuWeather meteorologist seeking acknowledgment of the tornado warning that had just been issued for the facility.

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Technical description: the images above depict radar reflectivity on the left and radar velocity on the right. A rotational couplet (arrows) is visible on the velocity image 20 miles southwest of the Riegelwood facility (red dot). The area of rotation in question was moving northeast at 40 mph. Given the presence of a rotational couplet moving northeast toward the contracted 3-mile tornado radius, the SkyGuard Tornado Warning was issued at 11:55 PM EST. This tornado produced damage along a 22-mile path, with peak wind speeds of 160mph, giving it an EF-3 rating.

Gill quickly placed a call to the site’s pulp foreman who confirmed they received the warning via text and were in the midst of following their emergency action plan. This plan included the evacuation and tie-down of two portal cranes on-site, a process which can take around 5 minutes. The danger that cranes pose during high wind or tornado events is well-documented and a key reason that International Paper and Gill have stringent procedures in place for severe weather. 

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Site-specific Warnings

The text message received by the pulp foreman on-site that evening contained the start time of the warning, or when the tornado was anticipated to be within the contracted 3-mile tornado radius around the facility’s exact latitude and longitude.

A non-AccuWeather, publicly available tornado warning was in effect for the storm in question, but the polygon stopped short of the International Paper facility. There would not have been any notification of a tornado until a new warning was issued, providing very little advance warning and likely not enough for the complex procedure of evacuating and tying down the portal cranes. 

Actionable weather alerts integrated directly into a comprehensive emergency action plan, combined with site leaders that trust and understand the plan are critical components of risk mitigation that will save lives and protect assets. The example set by International Paper is one to follow.

Key SkyGuard Service Benefits 

  • Site-specific warnings that offer earlier notice before disruptive weather hits
  • Follow-up calls for critical warnings that aren’t acknowledged within a few minutes
  • All-clear notifications that minimize weather-related downtime
  • A team of expert severe weather meteorologists watching out for you and your assets, 24/7/365
  • The ability to speak directly with a meteorologist who can help you make the best decisions prior to and/or during a weather emergency
  • A secure, customized weather portal and mobile companion app with real-time radar, damage reports, and warnings for your location

Partner with us to weather the storm

When weather challenges your team to make rapid decisions, depend on SkyGuard forecasts and warnings to provide you the information necessary to make the best decisions that protect your people and avoid costly shutdowns. Start a two-week trial today.