It was the late 1970’s and I was standing on our front porch in Lawrence, Kansas, watching two small tornadoes dance across the landscape south of town a few miles away. Mollie was yelling for me to come down to our sub-level, but I was fascinated to actually see these destructive storms for the first time. I really should have been more cautious, but intellectual knowledge isn’t the same thing as real experience. I figured if I could see them I would have plenty of time to run downstairs and, fortunately, another one didn’t come up behind me.
I haven’t seen another tornado since then, but last night I came close. Really close. A really big one cut a swath through Joplin a mile wide, and it was only two miles south of our house. It’s all over the news of course, so there’s no need to go much into detail here, other than to say that one of our two hospitals, the high school, numerous homes and businesses and 89 people (so far) are utterly destroyed. We were just sitting down to dinner at 5:30 p when we got our Weather Call warning on both the land line and the cell phone. So I went out on the back porch and looked for funnels to west and south. Nothing. I went into the bedroom for two large pillows and positioned them outside our guest bathroom – the only one with a bathtub and no windows.
That was our plan – jump into the tub with two pillows and a Yorkie on top of us. But we didn’t have to. It rained hard for half an hour or so and there was sporadic hail, some of it approaching golf-ball size. We got two more Weather Calls during that time. Which brings me to the real point of this post: Weather Call. What is it? It is a lifesaver. Here’s the official description:
An improvement in how the National Weather Service defines warning areas has resulted in significantly higher accuracy and smaller warned areas, compared to the decades-old county-wide warning method. The Weather Call system is continuously monitoring the National Weather Service’s NOAA weatherwire. Using GIS (mapping databases ), the system compares a subscriber’s specific location to the location of the warning area. When a severe weather warning includes your location, the system will immediately notify you through telephone calls, SMS text messaging to your mobile phone or email, that severe weather is in your area.
In other words, thanks to GIS and computerization you no longer have to listen to warnings for everybody in a five county radius on your weather radio anymore. You can get an automated call to your landline or cell phone (or both) that is meaningful without false alarms. I am here to tell you, it works. Last year we had two calls all year, and there were funnels sighted close by both times. And they were dead-on yesterday (pun intended). The price? A local TV station subsidizes ours, so only $6.95 a year. But the site advertises $9.95 a year. A year! A heck of a bargain in my book – no more “crying wolf”. When you get that call, you know it’s serious.
Oh. And after seeing TV pictures of the Joplin devastation, with the bark stripped off the trees and all the rest, I told Mollie the next time we get a Weather Call, we are headed right down the street to our son’s house. He has a tornado room in his basement. Who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks? It has only taken me 7 decades.
- Deadly Tornado Rips Through Joplin, Mo. – New York Times (news.google.com)