Monday, June 09, 2014

Sunday Night's Tornado and Sirens

8:45AM Tuesday Update...  A few years ago, I sent an email to every Emergency Manager in the state and asked them to briefly describe their tornado siren policy.  I published all the responses received here on the blog.  You can read them by clicking on the tab "TORNADO SIREN POLICY" in the navigation bar above.


I'm going to deviate from the regular forecasting and get this off my chest.  Remember, this blog is a reflection of my views and not necessarily the views of KATV

Let's first start off with the tornado warning issued Sunday night for Pulaski and Saline counties.  I saw this starting to wrap up on radar at the same time the Spurs and the Heat were in the final minutes of Game 2.  I'll be honest, I was sweating it out.  I knew if I broke into programming, the phones would light up, the emails would pour in, and social media would erupt.  That's just the way it is.  I was hoping the game would end before any tornado warning was issued, but that's not the way it happened.  Before the warning was ever issued, I talked to our weekend director, Tyrone.  I asked him to put any tornado coverage in a "double box".  That means half the screen would be tornado coverage and the other half the game.  Our production crew on the weekends, led by Tyrone, are the absolute best.  He did it quickly and we were ready if anything happened... and it did.  I make no apologies for interrupting the game.  I didn't want to do it, but at the end of the day, it's about lives, and not a game.  I'll take the heat.. pun intended there.  To be honest, I haven't had too many complaints, but there have been a few.   Believe me, I wanted to watch the game too!

So during the coverage of the tornado warning, my twitter feed was lighting up with people asking why sirens were going off in areas NOT under the tornado warning.  This is the next issue I want to address.  I still have no idea why sirens are sounded over areas NOT under a warning.  I have no control over the sirens and the National Weather Service office doesn't either.  They act in an advisory role for Pulaski county.  Emergency Managers in each county have their own rules about sounding them.   Today (Monday) Justin Lewis asked the Emergency Management Director in Pulaski county why they sounded the sirens in areas not under the warning.  Here's his story....

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) -- Neighbors in Saline and Pulaski Counties reported hearing tornado sirens in their towns over the weekend.
The only issue is the areas weren’t under a tornado warning at the time.
"They were hearing the tornado sirens that were set off by the sheriff's department because when we set ours off, all 29 of them, are set off once the National Weather Service says there is a tornado warning for the county,” said Andy Tranffenstedt about the Pulaski County tornado sirens.
Traffenstedt is Pulaski County's director of emergency management and said that’s why Maumelle residents were hearing tornado sirens. It was coming from Pulaski County sirens nearby and not from the city.
"We would rather make sure everybody is alerted that there is a possible tornado, even if it's not in their area,” Traffenstedt added. “There's always the possibility it could change directions or second storm could brew up"
As for Saline County, its sirens sounded Friday afternoon even though no tornado warning was issued. According to the 911 director, it was videos and pictures depicting a funnel cloud that made it pull the trigger on the sirens.
Since tornado warnings are issued by county and not sections of a county, many emergency management officials approach the tornado siren system in the same way -- when one sounds, they all sound.

With all respect, I do not understand this philosophy whatsoever.   Why would you want to scare and falsely warn people who in no way are going to be affected by the tornadic portion of the storm?  Extremely well trained and educated meteorologists at the National Weather Service office issue those warnings.  Why isn't there trust there?  According to this interview, the emergency manager says, “There's always the possibility it could change directions or second storm could brew up".  Okay... if that's the case, when it changes directions or another storm develops, then sound the sirens in that area.

I'm very afraid we are to the point of crying wolf.  People start saying, "well those sirens always go off and nothing happens."  At the end of the story it says, "Since tornado warnings are issued by county and not sections of a county, many emergency management officials approach the tornado siren system in the same way -- when one sounds, they all sound."  That's just not true anymore.  Warnings are NOT issued for whole counties anymore and haven't been for years.  They are called "storm based warnings."  Very well trained and very well educated meteorologists at the NWS office draw a polygon around the areas where the tornado may track.  This is done to only warn those in the immediate path of danger and it gets away from falsely warning a portion of a county that has no need to take cover.  I strongly feel it's time for emergency management to take this route when sounding sirens.

One more thing before my rant is over.  Did you know tornado sirens are NOT meant to warn anyone who is indoors?  That's right.  Tornado sirens are designed and sounded to alert people who are outside to get inside because a tornado warning has been issued.   I can't stress this enough.... NEVER use tornado sirens as your primary source for warnings.  If there's a loud storm over your home, you may never even hear them.  Also, some people have been known to sleep through sirens.  Always have a way to get warnings like a NOAA weather radio or WeatherCall 7.  It's that simple.

Okay, my little rant is over.  LOL.  Have a great evening/day.

Here's the warnings text.  The towns in the path are mentioned specifically.


Anonymous said...

I agree it's to the "crying wolf" point. I've only lived in AR 3 years now, but I don't have any regard for the sirens (I follow your twitter and KATV wx and I have a high res radar app w some decent knowledge on reading it). I came from MN and when a siren sounded it meant business. Get down to the basement business, tornado is impending. That's what I thought was happening the first time I heard a tornado siren here... But no... We weren't anywhere near the warned area and it was southeast of us! This has happened over and over and over again. The only time a tornado did hit the Air Force base, we were in MN on vacation! They need to lay off because I don't know anyone who trusts the sirens anymore.

03msc said...

As I've been seeing some of this dialog in the last 24 hours - the story on KATV, this blog post, and even some questioning the IndCo OEM Director why sirens weren't going off when the small tornado hit Batesville on Friday - I continue to think "sounds like it's time for the NWS-LR to have a meeting with all OEM directors from the state. Sit them down, explain all of this, give it to them in a printed handout as well, and then send them back to their counties with the suggestion of re-evaluating their policies.

Some counties may be going it right but it's apparent that some are doing it wrong.

For the record - according to IndCo OEM director, Independence County no longer has working tornado sirens as they (quorum court) decided a few years ago they were too costly to maintain and they switched to an alert system (phone). Apparently they let the individual VFDs have the option of taking over the maintenance of the siren(s) in their respective districts and only 3 did. He has said that he is not aware of if those sirens work now or not. The way the tornado happened last Friday here, I am not sure having sirens would've helped anyway as it was so fast and unexpected. seems like some dialog and education of many in the state is warranted, at least based on your post and what you describe happened in central AR. Maybe that could be encouraged by local mets talking with NWS, ADEM, etc.

The Arkansas Weather Hawk said...

Todd Just to shed some light on to how Siren systems work. In SOME Counties Not all but some, I know for a fact Saline County. The sirens operate on the same network and the receiver is put in a certain location so that the antenna on the mount of Every siren head in the county can recieve it. Bc if the antenna don't recieve the radio signal that's sent to the siren. It won't sound regardless of whether a Tornado is coming or not unless there is somebody there to turn the switch manually on the siren itself. Nobody is going out in a Tornado to do that. And for some counties Especially larger counties it's easier to just hit a button and sound the entire system at once than to try to figure out many different things that they won't be able to figure out in a matter of seconds anyways. Most counties with fewer sirens do that because population is pretty scarce in certain areas of certain counties anyways. Pulaski county for example dont have a "see all sound all rule" Neither does Little Rock. LR DOEM Generally tends to sound all sirens if the City goes warned . But if there's a storm in a certain area of the city and the tornado or rotation is on the out skirts, and if the can get that info in time. They sound only the sirens in that area. But if a Hook echo is coming at 60mph. Then they're lighting up all 58 Tornado Sirens. Some entire counties work this way others don't. Hope this cleared the air alil bit.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the scenario in Independence County last Friday: the issue here is that, while the tornado sirens have not been operational for quite some time, the existing telephone alert system (AlertExpress) was operational and activated. It was just some 20 minutes after the tornado touched down. AlertExpress has been the only alert mechanism for most of the county for about four years, but the situation on Friday has caused some residents to question whether it (alone) is sufficient. This is somewhat clouding the issues, confounding the question of sirens vs. telephone alerts with a more fundamental problem that is always present: how to avoid false alarms while ensuring that citizens are appropriately warned about real tornadoes. There was never a tornado warning for Independence County on Friday (I think), and in the absence of such the emergency managers had to rely on observations from individuals (including emergency responders) to make a decision, and that can be challenging. These sorts of situations should be addressed in any policy making ir training actitvities.

Nathan Parker said...

Excellent post, Todd. First of all, I respect KATV on how it handled the severe weather interruption of programming. KATV really has it down when it comes to ensuring people's lives are saved, as well as KATV also thinks and plans out the correct approach to interrupting programming.

Also, I agree about the tornado sirens. James Spann is a huge critic of sirens and is really getting wearied on how many times agencies cry wolf with them. He highly recommends people get NOAA weather radios or better yet, smartphone apps that GPS your location and only sound the alarm when you're in the polygon (not sounding an alarm for the entire county). I personally love his little catchphrase: "In times of Severe Weather, respect the polygon!"

Mitchell McDill said...

Sirens are effective in some heavily populated areas but I think technology has allowed for much more effective ways of tornado warning notification. The siren is just a noise and doesn't give specifics but the warnings on TV, electronic devices, and NOAA weather radio give info about locations, times, and direction of travel. Don't rely on a siren.

Anonymous said...

I live on Congo Ferndale just past the light at Harvest Foods and I have been told by neighbors that a tornado touched down behind Harvest on Salem Rd. and that is why our power was out for hours..anyone else know anything about this?

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