Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Hramblings: Heeding tornado warnings

The recent spate of tornadoes in southern lower Michigan generated some interesting conversations. Despite tornado sirens warning people to take cover, most did nothing.

I have a NOAA Weather radio that is triggered by various hazards including severe thunderstorms, floods and tornadoes. Modern versions of these radios are selective about when they signal a warning. For example, the closest and clearest NOAA station is at Detroit Metro airport, but using the Specific Area Message Encoding or SAME feature of the radio, you can limit warnings to Washtenaw county.

Once the Weather radio alert went off, I checked the local news and got a look at the doppler radar images. I could see that there were multiple signs of rotation in the storm front. By that time the local tornado sirens were blaring.

With that, we grabbed a mobile scanner, tuned into Washtenaw Skywarn at 145.150mhz and headed to the basement. The Skywarn network is a group of trained spotters that watch for tornadoes and other immediate precursors to tornadoes, e.g. funnel clouds, wall clouds, large hail, etc. The net was in condition yellow which meant that they were only accepting reports of these types. No other radio traffic was permitted. This means they were actively looking for tornadoes. Shortly after 11pm, the net went back to green and we headed upstairs.

My point is this. Even a relatively weak tornado like the F2 that went through Dundee can kill and injure. Forecasting tornadoes and predicting their path is very unreliable. You may only have a very few minutes to respond to a warning. And to be absolutely clear, there are no other additional warning than the sirens. If you are too far away or sleep too soundly to hear them, consider a NOAA weather radio. These radios are under $30 and can alert you to flash floods, chemical spills and other hazards as well.