Cutting a path of death and destruction, tornadoes are the object of both fear and fascination.
Meteorologist and native Kansas Citian Mike Smith goes inside these powerful storms in When the Sirens Went Silent at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 9, 2012, at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
The government's tornado warning program began on May 20, 1957, in Kansas City as the deadly Ruskin Heights tornado approached. The rudimentary tornado tracking implemented by meteorologists saved dozens of lives that day.
A half-century later more than 200 lives were saved as a tornado leveled the town of Greensburg, Kansas. Because of early warning systems, tornado deaths have been cut by more than 95 percent.
But what if the warning system failed? Would it really mean a return to triple-digit fatalities? That scenario played out last year when the deadliest tornado in 65 years struck Joplin, Missouri, killing 161 people.
One of America's most innovative and honored meteorologists, Mike Smith knew from the age of five - when he survived a tornado in his neighborhood - that he would make weather his career. After receiving his meteorology degree from the University of Oklahoma, he worked as a television meteorologist in St. Louis, Oklahoma City, and Wichita.
He has received 19 patents in the fields of weather science, emergency management, and search and rescue. A Fellow of the American Meteorology Society, he has received their awards for Outstanding Contribution to the Advance of Applied Meteorology and for Outstanding Service to Meteorology by a Corporation. Smith has been nominated for the CNN Hero of The Year Award for 2012.
He is senior vice president of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions and the author of Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather.
Admission is free. The event will be preceded by a 6 p.m. reception. RSVP online  or call 816.701.3407. Free parking is available at the Library District Parking Garage at 10th & Baltimore.
Major funding for programs at the Kansas City Public Library is provided by a generous grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.