Lightning flashes across the sky. Thunder crashes in the night. Amidst nature’s fury, a siren pierces the air. A tornado is coming.
I race to the local storm shelter. As a volunteer shelter manager for the local Emergency Service and Disaster Agency (E.S.D.A.), it is my responsibility to open the shelter when a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning is issued.
Sadly, many people refuse to take action. The watches and warnings are viewed as a joke. Some even leave their safe area in order to film the impending storm. This is how lives are lost. In 2011, a devastating tornado ripped through Joplin, MO. Numerous people perished that day because they did not heed the National Weather Services’ tornado watch that was issued. Instead, people continued with their outdoor activities until it was too late.
Some are brazen enough to think that they can “out run” a tornado or severe storm. With winds raging at over 100 miles per hour, throwing debris and destroying all objects in its path, tornadoes can easily overtake a vehicle.
My father has been the E.S.D.A. Coordinator for over 40 years. Weather awareness has always been important in our family. I can still remember being scared of the weather alert radio that would blare from my parent’s bedroom.
Weather Alert Radios are devices that are activated via a special tone when a watch or warning is issued. The device has evolved greatly since I was little. Not only are portable versions available, but many models can be programmed to only activate for specific weather advisories.
In today’s tech savvy world, there is no excuse for people to ever claim they are “unaware” of impending weather events. Numerous free weather apps are available on iTunes, Google Playstore, etc. Many TV stations have their own version of “Storm Mode” where they will not return to scheduled programming until all severe threats have passed the viewing area.
What I cannot understand is why a great number of people call the TV stations to complain. I recently watched a meteorologist on Channel 4 apologize profusely for interrupting an episode of “Big Brother.” Seriously? People are more concerned about a faked “reality” show than they are about keeping their families (and themselves) safe?
Even with all of the advanced technology, there is no substitute for common sense. People have complained to my dad that they cannot hear the outdoor warning sirens from inside their home. The key word is OUTDOOR. These sirens are not meant to penetrate walls, basements, etc. They are designed to be heard OUTSIDE.
One resident became furious when he found out that a new siren was going to be installed in his subdivision. His issue? He claimed that he moved there for “peace and quiet.” I suppose he is not concerned about the safety of his neighbors.
In 1968, a tornado ravaged our town. My dad decided that something needed to be done. He gathered his friends and went door-to-door gathering signatures to petition the mayor for outdoor warning sirens. Definitely not your typical high schooler.
Thousands of signatures later, the mayor purchased two sirens. Through grants, my dad was later able to secure two additional sirens. We are also designated as a StormReady Community by the National Weather Service.
Being weather aware is crucial, especially for those of us living in Tornado Alley. Remember that a watch means that conditions are favorable for severe weather/tornadoes. A warning means that the severe weather/tornado is happening now. In the words of Channel 5 meteorologist Scott Connell, “Don’t be a statistic.”