"The school started coming apart": Students trapped by tornado had nowhere to hide

But there are experts who say that having a large number of people crowded into a big building is a bad idea when maximum-force tornadoes are sweeping through an area.

Chief among them is Joe R. Eagleman, a professor emeritus of the University of Kansas and author of “Severe and Unusual Weather,” a meteorology standard since it was first published in 1983.

He agrees that there was likely insufficient time between the first warning and the time the tornado hit the school, constructed in 1966, for Plaza Towers administrators to consider sending students home. “If time is short, being caught out in the open is not good,” he said.

But he said dispersing the students to their homes would have improved their odds.

“If there is sufficient warning time, the homes would be typically safer because they are smaller buildings and offer more opportunity to get in a downwind corner of the likely approach,” he said.