One of the worst weather events of 2014 (in terms of human impacts) in the USA occurred on Saturday, November 22, 2014 as light freezing rain moved from the Midwest through the lower Great Lakes and Pennsylvania/New York. This event may rank in the top ten weather disasters of the year in this country, in terms of combined damage, injuries and fatalities.
Yes, one of the worst weather disasters of the year in the US - but unless you were there, you likely didn't hear about it at all!
Like many high-impact icing events, this one went virtually unnoticed in the USA (aside from those directly impacted by it). The Columbus, Pittsburgh and Detroit metro areas were hit particularly hard by this event, with numerous highways shut down and police/fire/EMS overwhelmed with the large number of accidents. In Detroit, a Boeing 737 jet aircraft slid off of an icy runway. This event, like many in the past, underscores the potential for high human impacts that light amounts of freezing rain pose to the public.
News reports indicate thousands of accidents across 7 states (Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York). The death toll from icy road crashes caused by the freezing rain is up to 8 as of the time of this post (2 in Wisconsin, 2 in Pennsylvania, 3 in Ohio and 1 in Kentucky). Reports also suggest injuries to be likely well over 100 people, including several fire and police personnel. While exact damage costs are unknown, the sheer number of crashes and totaled vehicles will place this event well into the multi-million dollar range.
This event was well-forecast in advance, and a Freezing Rain Advisory was in effect for most of the impacted areas. However, media coverage of the event was scarce, overshadowed by the Buffalo lake effect snowstorm aftermath and the potential for severe weather in south Texas. The "Freezing Rain Advisory" is also not well understood by the public. As a result, this event "slipped under the radar" for most people in the threat areas, and reports indicate that few were prepared.
The freezing rain threat vs severe thunderstorms
Consider that severe thunderstorms (as were imminent in south Texas the same day) have the benefit of watches, SPC outlooks, warnings, EAS tone activations, television/radio break-ins, TV crawls, mobile phone alerts, countless shares and re-shares on social media, and a general level of respect from the public. Freezing rain, by contrast, is associated with NONE of those! Severe thunderstorms rarely cause property damage and loss of life. Freezing rain routinely causes death and injury. Saturday's human toll was similar/worse than the average strong tornado outbreak!
So why doesn't freezing rain get the treatment and urgency it deserves? Some of us in the weather community are beginning to ask that question, and that issue is one big reason that this site exists. If the mission of our NWS is to protect life and property, then freezing rain event must get AT LEAST the same level of treatment as severe thunderstorms. The Freezing Rain Advisory isn't enough - the public doesn't understand it, or at least doesn't make the connection that they need to change behavior to reduce the risk of damage, death and injury.
Treacherous icy roads imminent in the Pittsburgh & Erie, PA metro areas in freezing rain. Postpone any travel or errands until later! #pawx
Even on major news outlets on Saturday night, there was no mention of the freezing rain disaster or the human toll that resulted. On my own social media feeds, I posted about the threat both a day in advance and as it was imminent - and the posts got NO reshares or retweets (the single RT on the post above was from my other Twitter account for stormhighway.com)! This is a clear indication of the lack of awareness of this hazard, and that there is a lot of work to be done in the three main areas of threat communication: the NWS, the media, and pulic education.