Old Dogs and Weather Tricks

A tornado near Seymour, Texas

Image via Wikipedia

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.

Satellite Video Close-Up of Deadly Joplin, Mis...

Satellite Video of Deadly Joplin Tornado, by NASA Goddard Photo and Video via Flickr

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.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
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7 Responses to Old Dogs and Weather Tricks

  1. Well I’m glad you’re OK. Do you know the status of Anson, and Duane???


  2. I want no part of one of those tornados. We’ve had a few close calls down in Atlanta, but nothing anywhere close to this disaster.

    I’m pretty sure I know where the next 9.95 I’m spending is going to go.


  3. Hey Jim, great post. Having this service set up on a cell phone could be very valuable to someone who works in remote areas away from storm sirens. I couldn’t sleep last night thinking about Joplin and all of the heartache there. I had listened to 92.5 FM earlier in the evening and so many people were calling in looking for family and friends who are missing. It’s just devastating.


  4. ansonburlingame says:

    To all,

    I am fine as is my home and family. While some that we know and love have lost homes, we have had no one that we know of that have lost their lives or sustained serious injury.

    Within about 45 mins of the storm’s passage, Janet and I entered one area of devastation (just east of Shifferdecker and south of 26th street) to look for the daughter of our neighbor. She and her family lost it all but are safe and sound livin in Mom’s home across the street.

    I also spent a day digging into the rubble of my step son’s medical office remains to retrieve what could be found in terms of records. I now have an annual subscription to “Carbonite” an automatic off-site backup for computer files.

    The destruction occurred about 1 mile south of our home, far too close for any comfort. For us it was the sirens that sent us to shelter (basement under steel beams and surrounded by concrete blocks). We were spendin a quiet Sunday afternoon readin with no TV or radio. Almost out of the clear blue we heard the sirens, turned on TV and here “it” came.

    Since the tornado, the sirens have been our real guide with cell phone weather channel as backup. We still have no TV (cable one) but keep the radio on most of time when bad weather is looming again. Zimmer stations have done a great job in my view.

    One observation over last 5 days recovering. Take the 6 mile “swath” and use your computer to make it a circle. It will have about a 2 mile diameter. Then look at the destruction in that circle with bare trees and all the devastation of buildings.

    That in my view is very much like what we might see if an Improvised Nuclear Device (IND) (“suitcase bomb”) exploded in a metropolitian area. Then after viewing the physical damage from blunt forces, add in the radiation left behind after the blast and go figure out how to handle emergency responses to dig people out of rubble or render aid to those with Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS).

    Someday, somewhere, that will happen, in my view.



  5. To all,

    I am fine as is my home and family. While some that we know and love have lost homes, we have had no one that we know of that have lost their lives or sustained serious injury.

    God bless.


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