Meteorologist's talk on storm reporting draws hundreds
It was all about the weather March 13, when 109 residents from across the county turned out to see meteorologist Robb Lawson of the National Weather Service at Marion Performing Arts Center.
Visual reports from the public are critical to public safety during a storm, he said.
“Any time we can put that information in our warning or send it to the media, that we have confirmed tornadoes, it saves lives,” he said.
Storm spotters are especially important for Marion County. Storms need elevation to be picked up by radar, Lawson said. With Marion County’s distance to Wichita radar, storms need to be between 3,000 and 5,000 feet high.
One asset for Marion County is how aware residents are of area storms, said Ben Steketee, Hillsboro fire chief.
“The public takes things seriously,” he said. “They’re usually pretty aware.”
Knowing how to read radar is also very beneficial, Steketee said.
“When the weather is active, the weather announcers don’t always tell us what is happening in our area because they’re focusing on more populated areas,” he said.
While social media and cell phones make it easier to report a tornado, many don’t take the opportunity, Lawson said.
“Everyone has the same mentality now that someone will report it,” he said. “Always send a report in. Don’t assume we know that tornado is on the ground.”
Reporting a tornado’s direction and distance from a town is more helpful than giving road signs, Lawson said.
Reporting the sighting of a wall cloud is critical, he said.
If the cloud is not attached it’s referred to as a “scary looking cloud,” which could still be sucked up by the storm and become part of the wall cloud, Lawson said.
While rendering aid during a dangerous storm is important, Hillsboro firefighters are supposed to stay inside so they can help with recovery efforts when a storm passes Steketee said.
“I think my firefighters should be in the basements with their families,” he said. “Our work is afterward. If a tornado hits, we need to be available in the aftermath.”
Preparation for flooding is also critical to public safety on the county, Steketee said.
“When that happens, it can devastate an entire region,” he said. “Rescue in event of a flood is incredibly hazardous to the rescuers and the victims.”
Hillsboro’s department has firefighters trained in flood response, as well as special uniforms and supplies.
A car can stall in six inches of water, while 12 inches are enough to carry off a vehicle, Lawson said.
Marion County is also susceptible to straight-line winds, like those associated with shelf clouds and bow echoes Lawson said.
“Shelf clouds are like snow plows,” he said. “They’re 80-to-100-mile-per-hour winds, and just push everything out of the way.”
Storms with straight-line winds can hit areas far larger than tornadoes, and the heaviest winds of bow echoes can precede a storm by 10 or 15 miles, Lawson said.
“A lot of times the bow echoes are actually worse than tornadoes,” he said. “A tornado might be a ½-mile wide, but a bow echo can be 50 to 60 miles.”
Last modified March 21, 2019