A technology benefit

Published 9:29 pm Monday, January 13, 2014

What started off as a little bit of rain on Saturday looked for a few tense minutes as if it could be much worse. With a band of thunderstorms blowing across Western Tidewater at a fearsome 65 miles per hour Saturday afternoon, residents all around Suffolk saw their mobile phones broadcasting alerts that a tornado watch was in effect.

Heavy rainfall flooded roads in parts of the city, and anybody caught in the storm could attest to visibility being cut almost to zero. But the most frightening part of the storm was still to come, as sudden and shrill alerts on smartphones throughout the city warned that the tornado watch had been upgraded to a warning. Meteorologists from the National Weather Service in Wakefield had identified the rotating wind patterns associated with a twister, and Suffolk lay in its path.

In fact, the Weather Service reported Monday that two different weak, EF0 tornadoes had touched down in Isle of Wight — one north of Smithfield near Route 10 and one southeast of the courthouse on Bob White Road. According to news reports, trees and power lines went down in the area, and there was some damage reported to homes and vehicles.

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Still, nobody was hurt in the sudden storm, and we suppose that has at least something to do with the advance notice modern technology afforded them. The stories folks shared on Monday about their experience on Saturday often had as a common denominator a telephone that buzzed, beeped or otherwise alerted them of the danger, giving them the opportunity to change plans, hunker down or seek shelter — whether or not they were watching a television newscast or listening to local radio at the time.

There are plenty of good reasons to bemoan the creep of technology into every facet of our lives. But Saturday gave us a reminder that personal technology can be so much more important than a way to post selfies on Facebook.