If you only read the first two sentences of this blog you should know: First, NYC has tornadoes but it does not have tornado sirens so you will not be warned by a siren if a tornado is happening in the NYC area. Number two, it’s foolish to rely only on an outdoor siren no matter where you live!
Actually, I’m writing to share the new book “When the Sirens Were Silent, How the Warning System Failed a Community,” by Mike Smith. Smith is a storm-chasing meteorologist who works at the Accuweather Enterprise division in Wichita. He gives his opinions on why so many people were killed during the Joplin tornado in 2011. In an area where tornadoes frequently happen and a place that does have sirens - did you know: the sirens were not even sounded for the tornado warning that night? Smith offers an account of the storm timing and the warning failure and what can be done to prevent such a tragedy again. I just read the book on the anniversary of the Joplin tornado – which the book uses as it’s main focus to discuss weather warning systems. It’s a minute by minute countdown of the events leading up to the tornado. In the book, Smith critiques the series of decisions and actions from National Weather Service forecasters and emergency management and describing their consequences. His commentary is insightful and written plainly enough for everyone to understand. The book’s conclusion provides a discussion of the importance of advancing technology, training, and messaging to improve the warning process. I think the book is an overdue call to action. Communities, Emergency managers and forecasters all need to get a system in place to is reliable and provides the service its meant to offer: a warning!
"When the Sirens Were Silent" is the gripping story of the Joplin tornado. It recounts that horrible day with a goal of insuring this does not happen again. The book gives you the tools you need to keep yourself and your family safe. Included are clever lift-out copies of the latest tornado safety rules for homes, schools, and offices."
From Smith's book, "What if the warning system failed to provide a clear, timely notice of a major storm? Tragically, that scenario played out in Joplin, Missouri, on May 22, 2011. As a wedding, a high school graduation, and shopping trips were in progress, an invisible monster storm was developing west of the city. When it arrived, many were caught unaware. One hundred sixty-one perished and one thousand were injured.”
When I lived in Chicago, I did a 15 county account of the number of sirens, who was responsible for them, who hit the alarm, what parameters required triggering an alarm, etc. There was no consistency.. anywhere. From siren to siren (within the same counties) there are different rules. Communities across Illinois hear the state mandated tests that ring out the first Tuesday of every month at 10am and many are under the impression they will hear the siren go off. If they are in their homes, they likely will not – the sirens are designed as an outside warning. The siren may or may not go off for a severe thunderstorm and may only go off after a warning has been issued by the National Weather service and then relayed through a series of people and then manually set off. It’s not a dependable system the way it is now in the Chicagoland area.
Here in NYC, there are no sirens for outdoor warnings. But as recent tornadoes have grabbed attention in the boroughs and on Long Island, many people are asking if sirens are a good idea. People in the NYC area now rely mainly on alerts carried by radio and television stations. Emergency officials in Suffolk and Nassau counties are considering whether to add sirens to their arsenal of public warning devices after tornadoes ripped through Queens and Brooklyn in September 2010, causing one death, falling trees and leaving behind extensive property damage.
What is the best way to get a warning? Take personal responsibility. If you have a smart phone, get the Weather Radio app. If you are at home or work in an office, get a $20 NOAA weather radio. And now that the National Weather Service is partnering with cell phone carriers it seems like it will not be long before weather warnings are offered through phone carriers directly to your phone based on your GPS location. But until that happens, everyone needs a plan for themselves.
Mike Smith has a blog with interviews, and the latest status on the availability of the book and e-book, which were released Tuesday.
Brooklyn Tornado Sept 16 2010
Video of Weak Tornado EF0 and a Microburst in the NYC Area