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The Lake News Online
  • My view: Tornado siren policy needs revisiting

  • It was not that long ago that photos from an unrecognizable Joplin, Mo. splashed across our television screens. Mangled wreckage of homes, cars and lives covered the flattened city, an occasional tree bare of bark or leaves skewering the horizon.
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  • It was not that long ago that photos from an unrecognizable Joplin, Mo. splashed across our television screens. Mangled wreckage of homes, cars and lives covered the flattened city, an occasional tree bare of bark or leaves skewering the horizon.
    One of the most devastating natural disasters in state history broke our hearts as we heard stories of survival.
    A family huddled in a bathtub.
    A mother with clutching her baby while debris swirled around her crumbling home.
    Perfect strangers crying out together in a pitch-black walk-in cooler.
    The death toll associated with the twister skyrocketed to 158 direct fatalities.
    But it could have been worse.
    The National Weather Service has a notoriously difficult job — predicting the weather isn’t an exact science after all. And meteorologists often get flak for inaccurate forecasts. Blaming the weather man is almost a pastime for some folks. But in Joplin, the tornado warning sirens sounded 24 minutes before the behemoth laid waste to the south side of the city.
    For those that heeded the warning the sirens provided, those 24 minutes could have meant the difference between life and death.
    Last Thursday, I monitored the weather all day as an outbreak of severe thunderstorms scraped across the lake area — three times prompting warnings. Storms barreled through around noon, producing no more than heavy rain and strong winds.
    But shortly before 2 p.m., the National Weather Service tracked a storm with radar-indicated rotation out of Hickory County into western Camden County. A tornado warning was issued at 1:47 p.m. The storm of concern tracked over Macks Creek, heading on a northeasterly track. The National Weather Service draws colored boxes on a map to indicate the range where a storm is expected to travel. The city of Camdenton was just off the eastern edge of the tornado-warned box.
    By 1:55 p.m., tornado sirens had sounded in Ivy Bend, Morgan County and Osage Beach — clear on the other side of the county from the warned area.
    As I looked from our office to the west at the mass of odd-looking, off-colored, low-hanging clouds, I waited for tornado sirens to go off in Camdenton.
    No sirens by 2 p.m. Nothing by 2:05 p.m. By 2:10 p.m., the storm was knocking on the door of Camdenton, and a tornado warning was still in effect for the county.
    Still no sirens.
    I wondered why the city’s sirens hadn’t been triggered — the storm was on a general path to go over Camdenton. The sirens worked, we heard them Tuesday when they were tested.
    Speaking with Osage Beach Police Chief Todd Davis later in the day after dangerous storms produced possible funnel clouds over Osage Beach around 5:30 p.m., he said the city’s sirens are activated any time a tornado warning is issued for Camden County or Miller County — no matter what part of the county the storm is in.
    Page 2 of 2 - The powers in charge of activating the Camdenton sirens — and, after several phone calls Thursday afternoon, nobody seems to quite know who that is — should adopt the same policy as their neighbors in Osage Beach.
    Testing the sirens does no good when someone gets trigger shy in the case of an actual tornado warning. Luckily, Camdenton schools didn’t wait for a siren warning, sending students to designated tornado positions.
    I understand that sirens can cause a panic, but you shouldn’t have to see a tornado tracking westward on Highway 54 in the city limits before residents get enough warning. Remember, the tornado in Joplin took just a few minutes to go from a strong thunderstorm west of the border with Kansas to a killer wedge tornado that screwed into the earth. A few minutes made all the difference for some people to survive with their lives.
    Camdenton dropped the ball on this one. The city is lucky a tornado didn’t touch down in one of the most populated places in the lake area. Next time a storm rolls though, it might not be so lucky.
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