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WHAT OTHERS SAY: Tornado sirens may save your life — heed them

Wednesday, April 9, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

We live in tornado alley, but sometimes it can feel like we're on the side street next to the alley.

The sirens sound, the TV meteorologists tell us to take cover, then nothing happens.

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At some point, we have to wonder what's the point of these tornado warnings when we end up with no damage.

While technology has created "cry wolf" syndrome, we have to keep in mind it's also created a valuable tool to protect us.

Thursday, April 3, marked the 40th anniversary of the "Super Outbreak." In 16 hours, 148 tornadoes touched down in 13 states killing 330 people, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

According to noaa.gov and a documentary on The Weather Channel, the technology to track storms in 1974 was antiquated at best — it was similar to the radar used to detect airplanes during World War II.

"National Weather Service forecasters could see only green blobs on their radar scopes and relied on visual confirmation to issue tornado warnings," an article on noaa.gov states.

The Doppler radar we're all familiar with today detects moisture. That gives meteorologists an accurate idea of speed and direction of a storm; it also produces signatures that indicate rotation.

We still never know 100 percent whether a tornado is on the ground unless human eyes see it and report it, but it gives trained weather spotters a specific location to look for potential twisters.

But it's not that easy, an available spotter must find a clear view from a safe location to spot a wall cloud or funnel cloud. Even then, while those are precursors to a tornado on the ground, those don't always make to the ground or are sometimes very weak and short lived.

While it's frustrating to hear the warnings and have nothing happen, it's better than 40 years ago when many people had little or no warning before a tornado hit.

Sometimes the technology is putting us ahead of the storm. The storm that spurred the tornado warning in nearby Cole and Osage counties Thursday evening that seemed to have a lot of hype for no damage later produced a confirmed twister on the ground just west of St. Louis.

Additionally, it's important to remember that while we receive more warnings than damage, that doesn't mean we're immune to mother nature's destruction.

In 62 years, there have just been nine tornadoes in Joplin — seven EF-0 or EF-1 ratings and most shortlived, according to tornadohistoryproject.com.

One was an F4 (the Fujita scale was used until 2007 when the National Weather Service switched to the Enhanced-Fujita scale) in 1954, and we all remember the deadliest tornado on record after an EF-5 tore through the southwest Missouri town in 2011.

The community of Ruskin Heights on the southeast corner of the Kansas City metropolitan area has had just one tornado in 62 years, according to tornadohistoryproject.com, and it was the deadliest tornado in modern record keeping until the Joplin tornado three years ago.

Callaway County is not immune, either. On April 10, 2001, one person died when an F-1 tornado hit Fulton, according to tornadohistoryproject.com.

On March 13, 2006, an F-2 lasted 30 minutes covering 13 miles, just missing Fulton by a few miles to the south, according to tornadohistoryproject.com.

On March 10, 2010, a tornado damaged some of the athletic facilities at South Callaway High School just north of Mokane, according to an interactive graphic produced by the Kansas City Star last week with information gathered from NOAA.

An F-0 skirted the south/southeast side of Fulton in 1982.

So despite the seemingly empty warnings, heed them. Use all the technology at your fingertips: television, radio, smartphones, tablets and computers to track the storm and find out what it's actually doing as the warnings are issued so you can make the best determination when and how to seek shelter.

Copyright 2014, The Fulton Sun. Distributed by the Associated Press.

 


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