Belle Plaine Police Chief: Tornado possibility required sirens

By: Phil White Email
By: Phil White Email

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BELLE PLAINE, Kan. -- Tornado sirens alerted residents of Belle Plaine as severe weather moved toward the Sumner County town Wednesday night.

Though a tornado warning was never issued for Sumner County, two trained spotters reported a developing rope tornado near Belle Plaine. The city's police chief decided the safest bet was to sound the sirens.

"It's kind of a split-second decision," Belle Plaine Police Chief Gordon Fell said.

With severe weather closing in and separate spotters reporting a tornado trying to develop, Fell said there was no time to wait to see whether an official tornado warning would be issued.

"You can second-guess whether you should have done it or not in a situation like this," he said. "We couldn't verify or deny the actual report that we were receiving, so we went ahead and erred on the side of caution."

The sirens went off and Belle Plaine's shelters were opened. KAKE Managing Meteorologist Jay Prater said that was the right move.

"When the tornado sirens went off in Belle Plaine, that information was not passed to the National Weather Service or to the emergency management community or else we would have broadest that immediately," Prater said.

However, the spotter reports and the potential for tornado development were reported on-the-air.

"When the conflicting information came out a little bit later on, we didn't have a lot of confidence in it, but we did get on KAKE during several updates and mention the threat for a small, weak tornado," Prater said.

He said it is vital that any information, including why sirens are sounding, is relayed.

"What has to happen in the future is any communities -- they do a great job with the spotting and turning on their sirens -- they need to get that information to an emergency manager or to the Weather Service so it feeds all of us," Prater said.

Fell said if the sirens are activated in Belle Plaine, it means take cover.

"We really don't want to sound them unless there is an emergency so, when they do go off, people do head the advice and take shelter," he said.

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