Weather radios are best warning system, experts say

Posted: Updated:
WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) -

"You shouldn't rely on the warning sirens," said Bradley Ketcham with the National Weather Service.

Sunday morning, a false alarm set off the tornado sirens in Sedgwick County around 4:42 am, followed just a few minutes later by the real thing at 4:58am.

Sedgwick County is apologizing for any confusion the false alarm caused.  The county says a dispatcher mistakenly set off the tornado sirens across the county for what was mainly a threat to Sumner County.  The sirens only sounded for about 30 seconds before they realized what had happened and turned the sirens off.  But, just sixteen minutes later, a real warning came in causing dispatchers to sound the sirens in the southeast corner of the county only.

In a written statement, the county said, "We apologize for any confusion this may have caused this morning; There were no system malfunctions and the sirens activated as designed.  Note that tornado sirens are not intended to be the first or only warning for residents."
 

At the National Weather Service, they say one of the oldest ways of getting severe weather warnings remains the most reliable, especially when dealing with overnight events like Sunday morning's.

"This curl right there? That's what prompted us to go with a tornado warning," Ketcham said, pointing to radar records from Sunday morning's storm.

That storm rolled through southeast Sedgwick County with hurricane force winds, leaving downed tree limbs at at least one ripped up roof in its wake.

"Sirens were going off and I started seeing trees falling and doing weird stuff," said Michael Thomas, who lives in Derby.  "And so the wife and I ran down in the basement."

"We were under a tornado watch, so it made me very scared," said Rubey Kayzek, who was helping clean up in Derby Sunday afternoon.

Even as that clean-up began, people were still talking about the confusion from false alarm sounding of tornado sirens, followed minutes later by the real thing.

"A lot of tornado deaths and a lot of damaging wind deaths do occur at night," Ketcham said.  "Because people aren't watching, aware, looking at things."

While some complained about the two morning sirens, others say they never heard any sirens at all while the wind and rain was blowing through their neighborhood.

"Outdoor sirens are run by the emergency management and the counties. And they are meant as an outdoor warning device," Ketcham explained.  "They're definitely not meant to warn anybody at 5 in the morning."

The federal Emergency Alert System never sounded on some cell phones, and, if location information isn't properly set-up, weather apps won't always work either.  All of which is why Ketcham recommends going old school with your warning system and getting a weather radio.

"If the cell tower goes down, you're not going to get that information," Ketcham says about the EAS signals and weather apps. "You're not going to be on your computer while you're sleeping at 5 in the morning."

He points to a family near Peck that he says suffered the most damage in Sunday's storms.  He says that family credits their weather radio with warning them about this storm. 

"They are too far away from the siren, they can't hear the siren.  Their cell phone coverage in rural Sedgwick County is sparse, at best, and they rely on the weather radio to get their information first," he said.  

He recommends the same for everyone else, even if it's a back-up to a back-up to a back-up.  Better safe than sorry, Ketcham says.

Of course it  is important to make sure your weather radio is properly set up and programmed. If you struggle with that, check out these step by step instructions from meteorologist Cat Taylor or just bring your weather radio to the station during regular business hours.