Listening for the warnings

Published 9:23 pm Monday, April 18, 2011

Folks who were paying attention to the weather warnings on Saturday might have caught on to something exceedingly rare in this part of the country. The National Weather Service issued a Particularly Dangerous Situation warning for Suffolk and much of the surrounding area.

The PDS is intended to inform the public “in rare situations when long-lived, strong and violent tornadoes are possible,” according to the NWS website. Clearly, Saturday’s situation qualified for the special warning. But were you informed?

If you subscribe to the Isle of Wight emergency alert system, which alerts users to weather and other types of emergencies through emails or text messages, then you received seven different weather alerts during the day on Saturday. There are similar services available from weather stations and news outlets around the area. Suffolk offers a similar service online through Nixle, but it was strangely silent on Saturday. In fact, the last weather alert from Suffolk came last Tuesday.

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It’s unclear at this point whether the lives of folks in Isle of Wight were saved because of the electronic warning system. But it’s certain that the warnings didn’t hurt — whether they came via email, text message, television or mobile telephone app.

There are some things about technology today that should be a given. Early weather warnings are one of those things. If you’ve got email or a smartphone, sign up for a weather warning service or download an application that will do the same thing. Learn how to set both services up, and then pay attention to the warnings.

Folks in the Midwest, who have ample experience with tornados, can tell you what a difference early warning can make. In March 1925, during the notorious Tri-State Tornado, 689 people died in three states, largely because no one knew what was coming until it was already upon them, according to a 1999 article in USA Today. But Doppler radar and the nation’s severe weather warning system has changed everything. Today, folks in the Midwest can know hours in advance that tornados are on the way, and then they can take precautionary measures.

Even on Saturday, the warnings were prevalent. All one needed was to be listening for them.