MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - TORNADO WARNING!
Tornadoes are one of Mother Nature's most powerful forces. A cyclone of wind that can destroy whatever is in their path.
On the Gulf Coast, it's not often that we get strong, deadly tornadoes, but recent events show we can't let our guard down.
On December 20, 2012, an early morning twister cut a path of destruction from I-65 to Prichard. Then, just five days later, we watched as another tornado formed live on our Holiday Inn camera and tore through the middle of town.
With forecasting improvements, we often know severe weather is possible several days out from the event, as we did for Dec. 20 and 25.
However, we never know for sure if tornadoes will come with that severe weather, or exactly where they might happen. That means you have pay attention for warnings and you need to get those warnings quickly. With severe weather and particularly tornadoes seconds count.
So we asked folks in the most recent storms how they were warned.
"I got the alert on my phone for the tornadoes before they happened," a lady in Midtown Mobile told us.
"Sometimes we look at the tablet I have and trace the weather if I think the storms are bad," another woman in Midtown said.
"I was watching the news. And just like you said. Woo-hoo! Man I'm telling you," a gentleman in Prichard said.
SIRENS = SAFETY?
Sirens, which dot the eastern half of Mobile County , have been used for years for weather warnings. They're simple, and if you can hear them, effective.
John Kilcullen at the Mobile Emergency Management Agency took us through the process of sounding the alarm.
He demonstrated as he said, "Turning it on, entering the appropriate code in the appropriate controller and push a button, and just a matter of a minute or two."
Right now there are 45 sirens in the county with an effective range of about a mile. In a county nearly the size of Rhode Island, it would take more than 500 for complete coverage. Recently there has been a push to get more - an expensive proposition.
"We're going to maintain what we have and if additional sirens are called for we will certainly support that," Kilcullen said.
Unfortunately though, the Mobile County sirens aren't precise. They warn the whole county when only a small part is affected. They're expensive and limited - sirens will likely never be a complete answer for your safety.
AUTOMATED PHONE CALLING SYSTEMS CAN'T HELP
Another Mobile County warning system is an automated phone calling system. A couple of years ago, When FOX10 News found out the county's system wasn't working, we challenged the county until the system was put back online. But in the deadliest situations the system isn't adequate.
"For a tornado warning, we're not likely to use that system," Kilcullen said.
Why? It turns out, the automated system is slow.
"It's not going to make a thousand calls in a minute," Killcullen told us. "It's going to take awhile to get the message out, and so it's something we would prefer to use when we have a little more time to disseminate warning information."
SMARTPHONE = SMARTLY WARNED
So, the Mobile County EMA has a limited way of reaching you during a severe weather situation. The sirens you may or may not hear, and the automated phone calling system is simply too slow.
So you need to look for some other solutions.
Pay Apps like MyWarn are available for most smartphone users.
You could just put the county you live in, perhaps the county you work in, or even a county one of your relatives lives in so you can give them a heads up if they're having severe weather.
But that still takes you signing up. The wave of future warnings is likely sitting in your pocket right now.
Smartphones with their GPS location are a perfect warning platform. For older phones you'll still have to sign up for a service or download an app, but the latest phones will automatically receive warnings. These wireless alerts will soon be implemented across the country.
Jeff Garmon with the National Weather Service told us, "That's where you see the weather service the government really trying to focus it's energy, trying to get those warnings to peoples cell phones and we made significant progress in the last year. You're going to see much more significant progress in the years to come."
GOT THE WARNING? TURN TO US!
Of course here at FOX10 News, we're always tracking dangerous weather and alerting you to trouble, but it's still helpful for you to get a text to let you know to turn us on for that critical information.
Often in this day and age we get overwhelmed by information, but when it comes to severe weather there is no such thing as too much information. Warnings of minutes have become seconds, and seconds are all you have in situation like this.
"The news program was on, Channel 10, that's what I watch," Iris Houston said. "And you all was telling were you're at take cover. Take cover right now! Take cover! That's all I heard when I heard take cover. That's when it hit here."
"What I'd personally like to see is for us not to over warn people who don't need to be warned. I'd like to see people who are in the warning threat area to get the warning as fast as possible and allow them time to take cover to save property and life," Garmon said.
The bottom line is, a quick warning to the right people, a fast reaction, and a safe outcome to a life-threatening situation.
NO SMARTPHONE? WEATHER RADIOS ARE STILL AROUND
Along with the new cell phone technologies don't forget about a good old-fashioned weather radio. They don't multi-task, but are designed with your safety in mind.
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