Severe Weather Week: Making sure you get the severe weather warnings you need

First Warn Weather Severe Weather Week

In 1984, the Barneveld tornado killed nine people as it swept through the community.

In the years before doppler radar began scanning the skies, that tornado struck with little warning, even though a tornado watch was in effect. It’s likely that storm could have been detected with today’s technology, and a warning issued in advance of the tornado.

However, there was a complicating factor. The storm hit just before 1 a.m., after most people had gone to bed. Would an advance warning have changed to outcome?

We all know weather in Wisconsin can turn on a dime, but when it takes a turn for the worse, how do you get alerted?

I hope you had multiple answers, and if not, it’s time to change that.

Every warning system has pros and cons. The best way of be alerted at home probably won’t work as well if you’re on the road.

Everybody is familiar with tornado sirens, since they have been around for years. But sirens have serious limitations. They only tell you that there is an emergency, usually for a tornado. But they can’t tell you where the storm is, where it’s moving, or when it might arrive.

Worst of all, the combination of energy-efficient buildings, noise from air conditioning, and sound from the wind, thunder, and rain make sirens difficult to hear. Don’t depend on sirens for your warning. If you are at home, watching First Warn weather coverage on your television is a great way to find out about severe weather and if you are in its path.

However, unless you are already watching, it won’t alert you to turn us on, and you will lose us if the power fails. Think of our coverage as a supplement to your plan.

Just about everybody has a cell phone. Almost all modern smartphones are required to send certain emergency messages as a wireless emergency alert. This will cause your phone to buzz and vibrate and display a text message. The alerts will only trigger if you are in the warned area, but it’s not a perfect system.

Only tornado warnings and flash flood warnings where life-threatening flooding are usually sent. Plans are under way to expand WEA alerts later this year to severe thunderstorm warnings where winds of 80 miles per hour or baseball-sized hail can be expected.

Weather apps, like our Channel3000 weather app, are handy for severe weather alerting. In ours, you can select which of 29 different types of alerts can trigger your smartphone, and what sound and vibration pattern you would like to alert you. You can also see the radar and read the text of the severe weather bulletins on the display. Make sure you take it to your safe place.

A word of caution: Check to make sure you can get coverage where you seek shelter, otherwise it won’t help you. Download our app now (on Apple or Android) and set it up when the weather is quiet.

The best way to get severe weather warnings is directly from the National Weather Service, and NOAA weather radios do exactly that.

When a weather bulletin is issued, it can turn the radio on from a silent mode, and you will hear a voice announcement of the weather alert. Most of the newer radios with an alert feature can be programmed to only sound the alarm for the county or counties you select, and all other alerts will be ignored. These radios also have a battery backup, so you can take it to your shelter area.

Portable NOAA weather radios are available that you don’t have to program, and use battery power. These are great for campers.

Always have multiple ways to get warned. If severe weather is expected, check that you can get warnings, as well as having enough time to seek shelter — even at 1 in the morning, so another Barneveld doesn’t happen again.