10 February 2008

A Severe Weather Forecaster’s Worst Nightmare

Posted by Dan Satterfield

When the thunderstorms moving into NW Alabama rapidly intensified early Wednesday morning, I knew trouble was coming. It was after 2 AM and most people were asleep. Tornadic thunderstorms in the middle of the night are truly a forecaster’s worst nightmare. Most people still do not have NOAA weather radios and even in areas with sirens, the residents are unlikely to hear them in their homes.

Every Meteorologist I know takes very seriously their job to responsibly warn the public of severe weather. This goes for those of us who work in TV, Radio and the National Weather Service . We strive to work together to get clear, accurate and useful information to the public as quickly as possible.

After the storms we received the usual complaints from residents about them having not heard their siren, or that it was broken, or even that there region did not have one, and why not?The politicians always tell us that there is just not enough money to have them everywhere, and that they are not designed to alert people in their homes anyway! The biggest problem of getting the warning out is at night- when people are asleep. Ask yourself how often your first knowledge of a tornado warning was the siren. Most people have already heard that severe weather is approaching on TV or radio.

I think it is time to change things in a major way.

These tornado sirens are a relic of the cold war. They cost around 20,000 dollars each, and even more for maintenance .

We get very little for our money.

Perhaps they were useful in the days when TV and radio were not in every home or the threat of an air raid with nuclear weapons was not totally out of the question. Has the time come to phase them out?

NOAA radio is a much better warning device and most people can afford 30$ to buy one.

I have an idea.

Why not look at the possibility of using the money that has been spent on these antiquated sirens to fund very low cost weather radios for Seniors on a fixed income and families who cannot afford one. Volunteer fire departments, and rescue squads could help those who are intimidated by electronics to help program them.

The local and state governments frequently get matching grants from the federal government to buy more of these sirens. Lauderdale county just announced 21 new sirens at a cost of $250,000 of tax payer money.

If NOAA Radio is a much better option than sirens, then why are such large amounts of money being spent on something that is unlikely to have nearly the same life saving potential?

One idea is a tax credit for low income residents. They could get $10-20 of credit for purchasing a NOAA radio for their home. This would cost money, but if we used money already designated for sirens then it would be money spent much more wisely!

In 2007 there were 81 tornado deaths in the United States. 52 were in manufactured homes. Indiana recently passed a law requiring that a NOAA radio be included with every sale of a manufactured home. A bill to do this nationwide is stuck in the U.S. Senate.
Both of these ideas will be much more efficient than screaming sirens.

The Tennessee Valley can, and I think SHOULD lead the way in embracing this change. If we do it, the rest of the nation, and perhaps the world will follow.

I am anxious to hear your opinion on this. Email me at: [email protected] or [email protected].