by Merrie Garner, CO-CEM, Emergency Management Coordinator, Carbon Valley Emergency Management Agency
The recent tornado that touched down close to Carbon Valley has served as a reminder for residents that they could be affected by severe weather and other emergencies. For many, the tornado raised questions about how we receive and understand emergency information, and what actions we should take when we are potentially in the path of the threat.
Staying informed, understanding tornado terminology, knowing what actions to take to protect yourself and your family, and preparing ahead of time can reduce fear and enhance individual self-reliance in an emergency. When we prepare together, our community becomes more resilient.
In this article we will discuss some of the questions that have been asked since the tornado.
WHAT DO TORNADO WATCHES AND WARNINGS MEAN, AND WHY DIDN’T WE GET A WATCH BEFORE THE WARNING?
A tornado watch is issued when a tornado is possible, usually for a large area. A tornado warning is issued when a tornado has been sighted or is indicated on weather radar. A warning is usually for a much smaller area.
Because a tornado may already be on the ground when a warning is issued, you may see it before or soon after you receive the warning. A watch is not always issued before a warning. The landspout type of tornado, as we recently experienced, forms from rotation on the ground and gets sucked up into the clouds, so may not be visible on radar. Landspouts are short-lived, rarely reaching more than 100 mph, and are usually weaker than supercell tornados that form in the clouds, and then move down to the ground.
A tornado warning can occur without a tornado watch being already in effect, especially between April and September in Colorado, when severe weather events can occur with little or no notice.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I RECEIVE A TORNADO WARNING?
The best thing you can do is be prepared by planning where you will go if there is a tornado in your area. Practice thinking about this when you are at home, in your car, at work, and out in the community. The lowest floor in a sturdy building away from windows is the safest place – a basement or crawl space is best. If you do not have a below-ground floor, an interior bathroom or closet is a good alternative. If you are in a mobile home, vehicle, or outdoors, go to the closest sturdy building or low-lying area and protect yourself from debris.
Practice going to your safe areas with your family, including your pets. Be sure to have some basic supplies in your safe place, such as a flashlight, water, and snacks.
You may be able to see the tornado clearly, even from miles away. It is tempting to go outside and get great footage or pictures of the tornado. Use caution and be ready to move quickly to safety if you just cannot resist.
WHAT IF I DIDN’T RECEIVE A TORNADO WARNING?
Be sure you are opted in to receive CodeRED emergency alerts at weld911alert.com. If you created a managed account when you signed up, you can log in to your account and check your preferences. If you did not create a managed account, you can call (866) 939-0911 to make changes. If you are signing up for the first time, it is a good idea to create a managed account so that you can make changes as needed.
Another possible reason for not receiving a warning is that you were outside the warning area. People in many places, like Greeley, Brighton, and Longmont, saw the recent tornado quite clearly, but were not included in the warning.
HOW DO I RECEIVE ALERTS AND WARNINGS FOR SEVERE WEATHER AND OTHER EMERGENCIES?
There are many ways to receive information about emergencies that may affect you. You should have at least two sources for severe weather alerts and emergency notifications. Understanding more about the benefits and limitations of each can help you decide which systems are right for you. Here are a few recommendations to alert you and your family.
Weld County Emergency Alert and Warning Notification System
Opt into Weld County’s emergency alert and notification system at weld911alert.com. Weld County utilizes CodeRED™ to notify the public about public safety concerns, such as active law enforcement situations or hazardous materials threats. These messages are initiated by local law enforcement or fire and rescue personnel, and often include direction about specific actions the public should take.
CodeRED notifications target a specific area and include all landline phones and registered cell phones associated with addresses in that area.
The CodeRED software automatically sends weather alerts when they are issued by the National Weather Service. These are not initiated by local officials. When you sign up for emergency alerts, you have a choice to sign up for weather alerts, and we highly recommend you check those boxes.
Wireless Emergency Alerts
Most cell phones today can receive Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs). These alerts are received from cell phone towers in a specified area, and can be sent by local public safety officials, the National Weather Service, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or the President of the United States. Check with your wireless provider to ensure your phone can receive WEAs.
Your device’s default setting is to receive these alerts. Although you may be able to turn off all notifications except those issued by the President, we recommend leaving these settings as they are configured when you first set up your phone. One advantage of WEAs is that you will receive notifications even when you are on vacation or in an unfamiliar area.
WEAs alert you with a unique sound and vibration that is also designed to be helpful to people with visual or hearing disabilities.
WEAs are not affected when the cell phone network is busy.
Emergency Alert System and News and Weather Applications
The system that is used to send WEAs also sends Emergency Alert System messages over radio and television broadcasts, weather radios, and various news and weather applications you can download to your devices. When you receive an Emergency Alert System or App message, tune in to local news outlets for more information.
NOAA Weather Radio
A NOAA weather radio is one of the best ways to receive weather information at home or when traveling or outdoors. Look for one with Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) technology so you can program it to notify you in the specific areas you choose.
Most home weather radios plug in to a regular electrical outlet. Look for one that has a battery backup in case the power goes out. For outdoors or travel, there are battery-only, solar-powered and hand-crank models.
A weather radio can also be used by local authorities to broadcast non-weather-related emergency message to the public.
What about tornado sirens?
Tornado sirens have always been an outdoor warning system for people working in rural communities or enjoying recreational activities outdoors. Because they must be initiated by people who receive the warnings at the same time as the public, they are often sounded too late and are therefore often ineffective. Sirens are costly to install, maintain, and connect with public safety technology. Many Colorado communities that were once more rural but have experienced major population growth in recent years have moved away from sirens in favor of other more reliable and affordable warning systems. Emergency personnel receives the same warning you do from your cell phone, weather app, or weather radio. Whatever your experience was with the “close call” landspout tornado this week, the Carbon Valley Emergency Management Agency wants to encourage you to be prepared when the next disaster happens. You can find emergency preparedness information, link directly to the sign-up page for emergency alerts, request disaster preparedness presentations for your group, or find help with emergency and business continuity planning on our website at carbonvalleyema.org.