It had to happen. Sooner or later, the news had to come out. That Joplin, MO was nearly eradicated earlier this year was a tragic event. The news that came out recently – that the sirens were ignored by many – is, unfortunately, not a surprise.
It’s been a Pet Peeve of mine ever since we moved here to Iowa. I don’t know if it’s this part of the country, or if it’s because NOAA or local governments or whomever is responsible are too reactive. But I have been known to unplug/shut off my NOAA Weather Radio because it is CONSTANTLY screaming at me!!
During the summer, we had a pretty wicked storm come blasting through our area. We knew that we should expect thunderstorms around 5 AM. At 3:30 AM, I was violently screamed awake by our NOAA Radio. I was shaking as I rushed to check the readout. I fully expected to be racing down the stairs to grab Josh and get into the basement because we were staring down the barrel of a tornado. When I got to the radio, I read:
Severe Thunderstorm Watch
WHAT??? That can’t be right. The readout must be wrong. They wouldn’t set off the emergency tones for a stupid watch. I turned on the TV, and sure enough, there’s the crawl. “Severe Thunderstorm Watch”. Still not willing to believe this, I went downstairs where my computer was still on, and I checked my weather sites. The “nasty storm” that it was warning me about was still WEST of Des Moines, which is 2.5 hours from us. Ticked off, I reset the radio and went back to bed.
At 5 AM I was awakened again; this time by a seriously violent windstorm going on outside my window. Surely they’ll set off the tones, I thought. So I stayed awake, knowing that there was no way, with this nasty weather happening outside, that I was going to sleep. I went downstairs and started surfing the web. I checked weather sites – we were right in the middle of a “red” band on the RADAR. Watching out my front window, which faces West-Southwest, I watched the trees in front of my house bent nearly flat against the ground as crazy winds whipped around us. But still, no tones. No severe storm warning, nothing. I don’t know if NOAA was asleep, closed for a holiday, or just being run by a bunch of interns that night. I have no idea if the sirens went off in town. We’re too far to hear them.
Later I found out that several towns to our south had been hit by 130+ mph winds. And in some communities, the sirens sounded. In others, they remained silent.
There have been other events, too. The alarm is regularly going off for “thunderstorm warnings”. For watches of every kind, from heat advisories, to wind advisories, to snowstorm watches, to flood watches. It has gotten to the point that when I hear the radio interrupted by that scratchy static-beeping, the NOAA radio, or the sirens in town, I look at the sky. If it’s not boiling and reaching a finger toward me, I ignore and move on.
I wonder how many people in Joplin did that on that day? I wonder, if the tones didn’t go off every time the wind shifted, would more people have listened?
Is there an answer? Sure, and it’s a very simple one. Make different tones. Not a different tone for each event (t-storm, flood, snowstorm, heat), but a different tone for each category: watch, warning, and GET THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY. Because a flash flood or blizzard warning isn’t as unexpected as a tornado warning, which would be upgraded to Get the Hell…
They could also be more specific about where the threat lies. With GPS technology, I find it hard to believe that the best they can do to warn someone about a tornado is to say that it’s somewhere within their county. My county is roughly 575 square miles. A tornado in the northern corner isn’t going to affect me, but one on the southern border just might. But if I want to know that, I have to sign up for warnings for Linn County, too, which is the county south of me. And is also huge. GPS could be imbedded in the NOAA radios – when a tornado is heading for a certain geographical area, the tones would be set off for that area only.
I wouldn’t have a single problem with my tax money being spent on these kinds of upgrades. That’s what it’s there for, not $16 muffins (must.not.rant).
It’s obvious that the current system isn’t working. Something needs to be changed, and I hope that NOAA and our government takes notice of this sad event and makes actual changes, instead of assuming (like they always do) that their method is flawless, and the problem lies with the people.