As we progress through the rest of April and into May...we enter our peak severe weather season here in NW Ohio and SE Michigan.
And some very tough lessons learned in tornado outbreaks over the last couple of years are worth repeating as the season ramps up.
Back in May of 2011...forecasters had been warning for days that severe weather was likely for the area on the 11th day of that month.
Tornado watches were issued...and by mid to late afternoon it was "go time". Several supercell thunderstorms had formed in Oklahoma and Kansas. One of them had its sights set on Joplin.
With a tornado already on the ground, the Weather Service office that oversees the area issued a Tornado Warning.
And in spite of several days of "heads up" lead time...when the sirens sounded, many failed to take the warning seriously.
And in some cases, that cost lives.
Why was the warning ignored? In many cases...repeated past sirens during tests and precautionary instances had desensitized residents.â??This was a warned event,â?? said Kathryn Sullivan, deputy director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), noting that forecasters warned of a strong possibility of twisters several days before the tragedy.Keith Stammer, head of the local countyâ??s emergency management agency, told Time Magazine his department issued two sets of sirens ahead of the tornado. But that many people in the southwest Missouri city ignored the first warning. He added that some people mistakenly thought the second siren gave the all clear. â??Honestly it was a bit of a disappointment that there were so many people who didnâ??t move to shelter after the first warning,â?? Stammer said. â??The human side is the part thatâ??s most frustrating.â?? So...what can be done to keep this from happening again?
The simplest solution is awareness.
When severe weather is a forecasted possibility...you need to take action. Monitor local weather sources and keep your guard up.
When a severe weather "watch" is issued, step your monitoring up a notch. Between radio and television, NOAA Weather Radio...not to mention several different apps for cell phones...getting that warning when it's issued is easier today than it ever has been.
In fact...you should be monitoring multiple sources. Redundancy is key. If one fails...another will take its place.
And when that warning is issued...take immediate action. Don't wait to verify. Get to shelter first...and verify second.
And to that end, do not rely on sirens as your primary warning source. They are not designed to heard indoors, and are meant only as a means to warn people who are outside.
And, as we've seen in some local siren tests, they can, and do, fail.
If we as Meteorologists and Broadcasters do one thing exceptionally well, it's making sure you know when severe weather is possible...and when it's imminent.
So please...pay attention. I promise to hold up my end of the bargain...but it's up to you to hold up yours.
Do you take shelter immediately when you hear sirens or see a tornado warning on TV for your area? Or do you seek confirmation first before you head for shelter?