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Science and the Environment

Ozarks Gears Up For Tornado Season, Part 2: Heeding Sirens and Seeking Shelter

Following the Joplin tornado late last May, the National Weather Service sent a team of assessors into the badly damaged areas and asked both city officials and the general public questions about how they reacted before and during the actual storm. In part 2 of this series on preparing for tornado season, KSMU’s Samuel Crowe discusses the results of this assessment, and what they mean for Ozarks residents during tornado season.

The assessment found two things; first, that Joplin residents felt the sirens were turned on too frequently. The city previously tested its sirens once a week. Many residents did not pay much attention to sirens prior to the EF-5 twister. As a result, Joplin now tests its tornado sirens twice a month, every first and third Monday morning. And the second result? The assessment revealed that people weren’t seeking shelter right away when the sirens went off. Instead, they looked for additional information on Facebook and television, and they went outside to check the weather conditions for themselves.

Keith Stammer is the director of the Jasper County Emergency Management Agency. He says this is dangerous because the average response time for a tornado to hit after the sirens sound off is seven minutes.

“People go through a thought process. They hear or receive the warning. They have to understand it. They have to believe it. They have to personalize it. They have to decide to act, and then they need to react appropriately. If they don’t do any one of those things, then they run a real chance of not being safe,” Stammer said.

Stammer says though tornado sirens are effective, they are only meant for people who are outdoors.

“If you’re indoors, your first and best bet is a NOAA weather radio. You hear the transmission the same time that I hear it. It all comes from the National Weather Service,” Stammer said.

Steve Runnels is a Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Springfield. He expects a warmer spring than normal this year, and with an average range of precipitation, he says this could lead to more severe storms than last year.

Runnels says during severe weather, what’s most important is that people respond immediately when the National Weather Service issues a warning, either by siren or by radio alert.

“It’s second nature to seek out information, to try to determine if your family is in danger. However, by taking that critical amount of time, you might be actually putting them at risk. So consequently whenever you hear a warning, please take shelter,” Runnels said.

And what if you are in your car when sirens go off? It’s important to take shelter in a nearby building, or in a low-lying area away from your vehicle. Never try to outdrive a tornado, and Joplin emergency officials advise that you do not take shelter underneath an overpass; the winds there can be stronger and more focused. It’s also important to never drive into water on the road. If a vehicle stalls, get out and seek higher ground immediately.

For KSMU News, I’m Samuel Crowe.