Give A Gift, Save A Life

A tornado near Seymour, Texas

A tornado near Seymour, Texas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just can’t help but admire good ideas, so I am motivated to update one such that I blogged on a year or two ago. It is WeatherCall.  (Disclaimer:  I have received nothing whatsoever for plugging this service.)

If you’re like me you are irritated when your television viewing is disrupted by distracting inset banners and radar pictures of approaching bad weather. The problem is usually several counties away but the interruptions usually continue for an hour or more. I have never formally complained about this nor written any public letter because I can’t think of an alternative that would serve almost all the people. But at the same time I can’t help but think that TV warnings amount in large part to crying wolf.

That in fact did happen in my town only a year a half ago when an EF-5 tornado flattened a third of Joplin. Because of this effect, when the tornado went through a couple of miles south of our house, I was foolishly out on our back porch looking at the weather rather than taking cover. The wind was swirling and a few hailstones fell, but I wasn’t alarmed. I should have been.  Two miles away 168 people were dying.

The affected area, roughly a mile wide and about 10 miles long, was scoured clear of structures as though by a giant weed-whacker and the only people who escaped were those who made it to basements or crawl spaces.  Some people

What Was Left

What Was Left. Credit: The Joplin Globe.

who crawled into their bath tubs were killed. The high school and one of our two hospitals were totaled. A small bank we used to use was completely swept away, leaving only the bare foundation and the stark cube of the vault.

WeatherCall is a service we have employed ever since the tornado. It uses GPS and computer technology to warn only subscribers who are actually in danger, and it works. In a year and a half we have only gotten a WeatherCall phone call a couple of times, and both times there were actual sightings or radar signatures quite close to us.  You can choose to be warned of severe storms or just of potential tornadoes.  We chose just tornados in order to cut the number of alerts to a minimum.  There’s even a lightning option – for golfers I assume.

This system is testable by sending an email request – in response you get the programmed alert proving the system is working. The cost? About a dollar a month. Pretty darn cheap insurance if you ask me, and it also means we don’t have to obsess over alerts 50 miles away.

WeatherCall is apparently having some success because its latest ad says it has been expanded to include coverage for smartphones, whereas before it was only applicable to fixed geographic locations. With WeatherCall ToGo, if you are driving you can leave your phone on and the system will update your location every 30 seconds. If you are driving to a set location you want monitored, you can turn the phone app off to save the battery and still be protected.

With bad weather on the rise, I’m thinking WeatherCall would make a terrific and cost-effective gift for someone you care about. It isn’t going to eliminate those irritating TV warnings, not in our lifetimes unfortunately, but it just might provide an attention-getting warning that saves the life of someone you love.

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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4 Responses to Give A Gift, Save A Life

  1. I believe one of the Columbus, Ohio stations provides something like this. Unfortunately, we’re about 15 miles east of where THEY believe the world ends. I will definitely look into this, as I’m often home alone and tend to avoid the local TV channels like the plague. (Now, if they could post warnings through the Discovery Channel and Military Channel, they’d get warnings to me about 80% of the time! 😉 )


  2. henrygmorgan says:

    Jim: We subscribed to Weathercall shortly after the Joplin tornado when we first became aware of it. We have it both here in Joplin and at our lake house on Table Rock Lake. It worked perfectly last year in the tornado that hit Kimberling City and Branson, doing severe damage in both places. Our warning came about 10 minutes before the storm hit, plenty of time to prepare. When we returned to our Joplin home, there were no warnings on our answering machine, demonstrating the main virtue of the system, in its scheme of only warning you unless your specific locale is in danger rather all the three adjacent counties or all of SW MO. We have been spreading its virtues ever since. Bud


    • Jim Wheeler says:

      Thanks for that testimony, Bud. You know, it occurred to me last year that the city of Joplin could have done much more good by applying money to WeatherCall than by giving away charity-subsidized weather radios. I believe they cost $25 to $30 each and it is my guess that most of them have been gathering dust in a closet ever since. We had one years ago and it only took me a few minutes of listening to warnings 50 miles away to realize we wouldn’t get any sleep at all in the Spring with that racket.


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