Storm sirens: deployed too quickly?

400px-Tornado_siren,_Pesotum_2 Last night’s storms by-passed Northfield once again. (The boys of KYMN joke that we’re protected by a high-pressure bubble whenever storms head our way.) When the sirens went off at about 5:30 pm, many people on Bridge Square for the Taste of Northfield headed for shelter in nearby stores or the Armory.

But just as many looked at the sky and could tell that nothing was imminent and just hung around and socialized. People like me. The tornado sirens ended after about 5 minutes, we got a few drops of rain, and that was it.

I don’t understand the decision-making process and the chain of command for when local sirens are deployed.  There’s no information about it on the City of Northfield’s emergency information page.

But it seems to me that the sirens too often are deployed too quickly, thereby teaching the public to not take them seriously because 99 times out of a hundred, nothing severe happens.

Or am I wrong?

116 comments to  (Including 21 Discussion Threads) Storm sirens: deployed too quickly?

  • 1
    Jane Moline says:

    I agree, Griff. I grew up in Gaylord, MN and we had frequent tornados. There are things I can FEEL that tell me a tornado is coming--and none were present yesterday when the sirens went off (in Dundas as well.) On the other hand, the sirens went off one time in Dundas just seconds before we got nailed by a tornado (the weather guys claimed it was straight line winds--but tell that to Alber’s shed, which ended up all over the place not at all in a straight-line.)

  • 2

    When the siren, which is mighty close to Village on the Cannon, went off, residents dutifully gathered in the underground parking garage, then tried to get info on portable radios—just static. The siren soon stopped. Someone said that did not mean you could go up as it never goes continually. Some thought the siren meant there was a tornado warning,some thought a severe thunderstorm was coming. Of course, we had neither, luckily. But how long should we hunker down? Is there an “all clear” signal that could be given somehow? Keeping elderly (not me, of course) confined in a basement for a long time all across town, not knowing when to emerge, does not seem very humane to me.

  • 3
    Phil Poyner says:

    If you really want some answers to your questions, here are some phone numbers:

    Kristine Chapin, Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, 651-201-7567 (office)
    612-590-8717 (cell)

    Jennifer Hauer-Schmitz, Rice County Emergency Manager, 507-332-6119

    Todd Krause, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, National Weather Service, Chanhassen 952-361-6670 Ext 2554

  • 4

    Watch the birds. If they disappear, run for cover. If they are out singing, life returns to normal. If you want to be safe. Otherwise, you are taking a chance because these storms come out of seemingly nowhere, hit fast and then move on only to leave some very undesirable results.

    I have lived through a bad one, only because it hit less than 100 feet from my home and then to the west of us, one otherwise beautiful Sunday morning.

  • 5
    Tracy Davis says:

    I heard from a knowledgeable (but unofficial) source that the sirens are automated, and are triggered by wind gusts of a certain velocity for a certain period of time.

    I think many of us, myself included, are still thinking of the non-automated days when a human being made a decision based upon a specifically-observed phenomenon. The public needs more information/education about the new systems and how they are deployed and what they mean.

  • 6
    kiffi summa says:

    Tracy’s correct.. I think the public needs to understand what level of (imminent?) threat is announced by the sirens.

    People need to use some common sense, and their knowledge and experience in evaluating the possible danger.

    On the other hand, MPR reported this morning that yesterday most likely set the all-time record for the most Tornado sightings and touchdowns in the state’s weather record history …It was repeatedly emphasized how volatile the situation became in the late afternoon with multiple vortex rotational storms.

    So… take the sirens as a warning, find out more about the immediate threat, and act accordingly…
    But I certainly wouldn’t ‘knock’ the sirens for the alert.

  • 7
    Griff Wigley says:

    Kiffi, a WATCH is what’s the National Weather Service uses to alert the public that the situation is volatile. A WARNING is issued to a small area when severe weather has been observed/detected and is heading your way.

    Looking at this map, there were no Rice County tornadoes nor any nearby severe weather:
    http://www.spc.noaa.gov/climo/reports/100617_rpts.html

    More here:
    http://www.startribune.com/blogs/96628254.html?elr=KArksCDEaLDyUBDEaLDy_47cQiU47cQUU

    So what was it that triggered the sirens, either automated or by humans?

  • 8
    David Koenig says:

    I subscribe to severe weather alerts from weather.com that sometimes have arrived in my Inbox before the sirens go off. The one from yesterday said that rotation was seen in radar images in a storm moving at 45 MPH towards our area.

    It seemed early to me too. But, when I looked up into the sky, I could see the tell-tale dropping of a forming funnel cloud (that never completed formation) not far from our house. So, I think they were probably right to send the warning.

    In those email notices, it also tells you when the warning expires, which was 6:00 PM for the one yesterday. I’d like an all-clear signal too, though, just in case the real danger lasts until 6:05!

    Here is the text from yesterday:

    THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN THE TWIN CITIES HAS ISSUED A

    * TORNADO WARNING FOR… SOUTHEASTERN LE SUEUR COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA… SOUTHWESTERN RICE COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA… NORTHEASTERN BLUE EARTH COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA… NORTHWESTERN WASECA COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…

    * UNTIL 600 PM CDT

    * AT 528 PM CDT…RADAR INDICATED A STORM CAPABLE OF PRODUCING A TORNADO. THE MOST DANGEROUS PART OF THE STORM WAS 2 MILES SOUTHWEST OF ST CLAIR…AND MOVING NORTHEAST AT 45 MPH.

    * LOCATIONS IN THE WARNING INCLUDE… EAGLE LAKE… JANESVILLE… ELYSIAN… WATERVILLE… KILKENNY… MADISON LAKE… GREENLAND…

    PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

    WHEN A TORNADO WARNING IS ISSUED BASED ON RADAR…IT MEANS THAT STRONG ROTATION HAS BEEN DETECTED IN THE STORM. A TORNADO MAY ALREADY BE ON THE GROUND…OR IS EXPECTED TO DEVELOP SHORTLY.

    A TORNADO WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 900 PM CDT THURSDAY EVENING FOR SOUTHERN MINNESOTA

  • 9
    Griff Wigley says:

    Thx, David. We’re a helluva long way away from St. Clair. And southwestern Rice County ain’t even close!

    I did contact the Nfld Police to inquire and got a voicemail back from Deputy Chief Chuck Walerius.

    He said the National Weather Service issues the directive to trigger the sirens and the Pearl Street 911 Center in Owatonna activates the sirens when they get notified.

    He also said that the Northfield Police can request an activation of the sirens based on what they see and can even activate themselves if they feel it’s warranted.

    So does anyone want to call Todd Krause, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, National Weather Service, Chanhassen 952-361-6670 Ext 2554? (Thanks for that info, Phil!)

    • 9.1
      Phil Poyner says:

      Griff, if you ever see me downtown and want some of your questions answered, just stop me and ask. Off the record, of course.

  • 10
    Curt Benson says:

    Griff, you wrote: “But just as many looked at the sky and could tell that nothing was imminent and just hung around and socialized. People like me.” Are you serious?

    Check out this link from MPR. It seems like there were the most tornadoes/funnels noted yesterday in Minnesota history. Look at the maps, there are sitings as close as Mankato and Rochester. Calling off the Taste of Northfield was the prudent (and obvious) thing to do.

    http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/columns/updraft/archive/2010/06/june_17_2010_top_tornado_outbr.shtml

    • 10.1
      Griff Wigley says:

      Curt, no one called off Taste of Northfield, far as I know. The sirens just effectively put an end to it.

      It sounds like you’re saying that because there were 40 tornadoes around the state yesterday, sirens everywhere within an hour of a tornado siting should have been sounded to have everyone who was outside head for shelter.

      That makes no sense to me. I think it inadvertently helps to train the public that sirens are really just WATCH-plus, not a signal to take cover.

      • 10.1.1
        Curt Benson says:

        Griff, Ross wrote on his NDDC blog:”It was probably a good thing that the Police Department “advised” the NDDC Board to shut down and send folks to shelter.”

        http://nddc.org/weblog/post/3412/

        We’ll have to agree to disagree on the sirens. Apparently we have a different level of risk tolerance. I think it was a no brainer to get people off the streets and into shelter. If anything this event “trained” the public that the sirens are worth heeding.

        There were winds of 125 MPH and tornados NW of Blooming Prairie which is a mere 35-40 miles SE of Northfield.

        http://www.owatonna.com/news.php?viewStory=118029

      • 10.1.2
        Griff Wigley says:

        Curt, you’re right, but as far as I know, the sirens had already gone off when the police told that to Ross.

        And the Blooming Prairie storm cell you cite was much later in the evening and heading AWAY from Northfield, no threat to us whatsoever.

  • 11

    According to an ancient Chinese system, every twelve years nature becomes especially strong…strong growth of flora,floods, high and low temperatures, rain, tornado, hurricanes, change of area where they hit, etc. 2010 is one of those twelve. Any one remember 1998…I saw the most tornadoes, giant abundance of flowers, etc.
    Batten down the hatches and split those irises and lilies!

    • 11.1
      Phil Poyner says:

      Studies have shown that these sorts of cycles only actually apply if you are both: a). ancient, and b). Chinese. As I am neither I’m afraid I’ll have to stick to things like radar, satellite, and computer models. ;-P

  • 12

    My dad (William) started Sky Warn, a group that voluntarily goes out and monitors the weather. He frequently gives me minute-by-minute updates of what the weather is like and for a good part of the evening he was telling me to help my friend get her car under some kind of shelter because of the pending hail. But the sirens weren’t for nothing… apparently the storm slowed down A LOT before it could really get to Northfield, but there was a completely legitimate threat.

    It was pretty nasty, but luckily didn’t reach NFLD. But I was told (again, by my father) that this weekend might bring some icky storms.

    • 12.1
      Phil Poyner says:

      Some history on SkyWarn, in case anyone else is interested in joining. From “Storm Spotting and Public Awareness Since the First Tornado Forecasts of 1948″ by Dr. Charles A. Doswell III (http://www.cimms.ou.edu/~doswell/spotter_history/spotter_history.html):

      “Another watershed event was the Palm Sunday outbreak of tornadoes of 11 April 1965. Although the SELS tornado watches were reasonably accurate for that event and there were at least some local warnings (often with the help of volunteer spotters), the findings of the Weather Bureau Survey Team (1965) led by Paul H. Kutschenreuter made it quite clear that the dissemination of the meteorological information was less than adequate and that the public was poorly prepared to use the information if and when they received it. Among other things, this led to the formation of the Natural Disaster Warning system (NADWARN) to coordinate the various Federal agencies (the participating agencies and their names have changed regularly) that have natural disaster-related emergency functions. NADWARN soon included a tornado-specific plan that we know now as SKYWARN. Also in association with the post-Palm Sunday era, the tornado “forecasts” officially became tornado “watches” in 1966 (Galway 1989).

      With the development of SKYWARN, the spotters have had a structure within which they operate in collaboration with the NWS. It is beyond the scope of this review to evaluate the effectiveness of the program as a whole, but the overall efforts have been important in the reduction of fatalities from major tornadoes. For example, no single tornado since 1953 has resulted in 100 or more fatalities; the last such event was the Flint, MI tornado of 8 June 1953, that killed 114 people. Note that communications technology, notably telephone and radio, has been an important component of the spotter network…”

  • 13

    Oh yeah, I was going to say that the whole Watch/Warning thing, and partially the reason that the sirens sound is because of my dad. But he knows what he’s doing. Unfortunately, the weather sometimes doesn’t.

  • 14

    Griff,

    Honestly now… Looking at that sky (and I walked right by you and your lovely bride on Thursday), it did not take a meteorologist or a siren to tell me that downtown Northfield was not the place to be Thursday night. I was home taking care of my family. It was very humid, the wind was coming up, and the clouds were heavy from the southwest. All classic signs of impending weather and possible tornadoes.

    There were Northfield police officers on Bridge Square, and they were in constant communication with dispatch as well as other departments such as Lonsdale. I know this as fact, as i was standing right next to the officer when Ross was speaking with him.

    Secondly, the sirens CAN be set off by the city, but they are usually handled by the county or regional dispatch center.

    I was at home watching the weather radar on the computer when the sirens went off, and there was a tornado warning that extended in an odd shape from Killkenny to south of Lonsdale, to just south of Dundas to Near Medford. It covered the better part of Rice County when overlaid on a map. The middle of the track was from Janesville, through Morristown, north of Faribault with the top edge being just south of Dundas. Our sirens were most likely just on the north edge of that alert area.

    Side Note: Weather underground has a new outstanding full screen weather radar at (Short URL): http://wxug.us/2ll4

    It is overlaid onto Google maps, and is quite nicer than the old smaller one with the ads.

    The National Weather service is trying to get more precise with its alerts and warnings. In the past, they used to set off every siren in the county, and that resulted in many false alerts. Looking at what I saw on the radar, I could understand why the sirens went off, but we were on the north edge of it.

    I completely disagree with your assessment, and I think you are being extremely over critical, I would always rather have too much warning than not enough. I do however agree that there could be better communication, and that an “ALL CLEAR” would also be helpful. Having folks hunkered down in a parking garage for an hour after the siren went off is not good for anyone. Perhaps patrol officers using their loudspeakers, or implementing a better usage of the CODERED system would be a start.

    It is my belief that the siren did not shut down the Taste. I believe the police department did when that lightning struck, as a matter of public safety. (This was posted on the Downtown Northfield Facebook page.)

    I personally feel that it is an individuals responsibility to ensure their own safety, and the safety of their families. If you wish to stand inside a metal tent on a concrete bridge over water in a severe thunderstorm, so be it. 8-) I have to agree with Kifi on this one… “People need to use some common sense, and their knowledge and experience in evaluating the possible danger.”

    Lets be safe out there people… 8-)

    • 14.1
      Phil Poyner says:

      John, is there any chance that was a Severe Thunderstorm Warning rather than a Tornado Warning (the one you saw depicted on the radar imagery)?

      • 14.1.1

        The whole area was under a severe thunderstorm warning, and the Red tornado warning block was just touching Dundas when viewed. I checked it multiple times.

    • 14.2
      Griff Wigley says:

      John, I don’t disagree that, as you wrote, “It was very humid, the wind was coming up, and the clouds were heavy from the southwest. All classic signs of impending weather and possible tornadoes.”

      But that’s why it’s called a WATCH, not a WARNING, right?

      I’m not arguing with the Northfield Police’s advice Ross to shutdown Taste but that was AFTER the sirens and AFTER the not-very-nearby lightning/thunder.

      We have many thunderstorms with lots of lightning and heavy rain and even small hail and the sirens never get triggered, which is as it should be.

      My point is simply this: post-event analysis shows that there were no severe thunderstorms or tornadoes anywhere near Northfield at 5:30 pm. and therefore no reason for the NWS to trigger the sirens.

      BTW, I love that new Weather underground full screen weather radar map. Thanks a ton:
      http://wxug.us/2ll4

  • 15
    Patrick Enders says:

    Well said, Curt, Phil, and John.

    I’m not sure what the use would be to have an alert system that only goes off when a tornado comes over the horizon. That was an awfully ominous-looking storm, which did kill 3 people.

    Better to play it safe.

    • 15.1
      Griff Wigley says:

      Patrick, you can’t refer to Thursday’s outbreak as a single storm. There were dozens of them and each has to be considered separately when the NWS issues warnings.

      And it used to be that spotters did have to see a developing funnel cloud ‘over the horizon’ or experience high winds in order to trigger a warning.

      But with today’s advanced radar systems, the NWS can ‘see’ the hook echo http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hook_echo that indicates a tornado is likely forming.

      There were no hook echoes on radar in the thunderstorm that was just SW of Northfield (all storm cells were moving SW to NE) at 5:30-6 PM. The nearest one was by St. Clair.

  • 16
    Griff Wigley says:

    Here’s more evidence that the 5:30 pm sirens were a mistake, two email alerts from the NWS, one at 5:51, the other at 6:21.
     

    date: Tue, May 25, 2010 at 5:51 PM
    subject: Severe Thunderstorm Warning at ‘Northfield’, until 6:30pm, Tue May 25 2010

    Here is a current Severe Thunderstorm Warning for Northfield (Northfield, MN) until 6:30pm, Tue May 25 2010, from your local National Weather Service office.

    BULLETIN -- IMMEDIATE BROADCAST REQUESTED
    SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING
    NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TWIN CITIES/CHANHASSEN MN
    551 PM CDT TUE MAY 25 2010

    THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN THE TWIN CITIES HAS ISSUED A

    * SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING FOR…
     RICE COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…

    * UNTIL 630 PM CDT

    * AT 549 PM CDT…RADAR INDICATED A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM…CAPABLE OF
     PRODUCING DAMAGING WINDS IN EXCESS OF 60 MPH. THIS STORM WAS
     LOCATED 3 MILES SOUTHEAST OF FARIBAULT…AND MOVING NORTH AT 20
     MPH.  PENNY SIZE HAIL MAY ALSO ACCOMPANY THESE DAMAGING WINDS.

    LOCATIONS IN THE WARNING INCLUDE…
     FARIBAULT…
     WARSAW…
     DUNDAS…
     NORTHFIELD…
     LONSDALE…
     BRIDGEWATER…

    PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

    IF YOU ARE IN THE PATH OF THIS STORM…PREPARE IMMEDIATELY FOR
    DAMAGING WINDS IN EXCESS OF 60 MPH AND HAIL. SEEK SHELTER NOW INSIDE
    A STURDY STRUCTURE AND STAY AWAY FROM WINDOWS.

    WIND…HAIL 60MPH 0.75IN

    date: Tue, May 25, 2010 at 6:21 PM
    subject: Severe Thunderstorm Warning at ‘Northfield’, until 6:30pm, Tue May 25 2010

    Here is a current Severe Thunderstorm Warning for Northfield (Northfield, MN) until 6:30pm, Tue May 25 2010, from your local National Weather Service office.

    SEVERE WEATHER STATEMENT
    NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TWIN CITIES/CHANHASSEN MN
    621 PM CDT TUE MAY 25 2010
    RICE MN-
    621 PM CDT TUE MAY 25 2010

    …A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR RICE COUNTY
    UNTIL 630 PM CDT…

    AT 616 PM CDT…NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE RADAR INDICATED A SEVERE
    THUNDERSTORM CAPABLE OF PRODUCING DAMAGING WINDS IN EXCESS OF 60 MPH.
    THIS STORM WAS LOCATED NEAR FARIBAULT…MOVING NORTH AT 5 MPH.

    IN ADDITION…WIND GUSTS OF 52 MPH WERE REPORTED AT THE FARIBAULT AIRPORT
    BETWEEN 600 PM AND 615 PM.

    LOCATIONS IMPACTED INCLUDE…
     NERSTRAND…DUNDAS…NORTHFIELD…LONSDALE AND BRIDGEWATER.

    PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

    SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS PRODUCE DAMAGING WIND IN EXCESS OF 60 MILES PER
    HOUR…LARGE HAIL…AND DEADLY LIGHTNING. FOR YOUR PROTECTION MOVE TO
    AN INTERIOR ROOM ON THE LOWEST FLOOR OF YOUR HOME OR BUSINESS.

    WIND…HAIL 60MPH <.75IN

  • 17
    kiffi summa says:

    I’ll admit to being really crabby this AM… but I can’t believe you guys are going to continue to count ‘coup’ over whether or not the WARNING sirens should have been deployed… at the same time the City has to figure out , by September (preliminary budget deadline) how to cut 2 MILLION $$ out of the budget over the next few years, and also get the citizens to pay for needed facility improvements… and that hardly gets a serious comment!

    Start listening to what Jim Pokorney has been saying at recent budget discussions; he is laying it all out and not getting a whole lot of response.

    This community is going to find itself with higher taxes, cut services, and THEN everyone will be saying , well. how did that happen?

    • 17.1

      Kiffi,

      I agree with you on this one, and I would be very curious as “Joe Average” citizen to get a look at that budget.

      For 2010, the general fund operating budget was $10,569,815.00. 6.5 million of this came from tax revenues, with 5.4 million going to operations and nearly 1.1 million to service debt.

      Folks need to think about this. We are facing a TWENTY percent reduction in this budget.

      In 2010, the budget was 10.5 million:
      2.37 million went to General Government Operations
      3.57 million to public safety
      (2.8 to police, .5 million to fire, .186 to building inspections)
      1.85 million to public works
      and
      1.81 million to Culture and Recreation.
      (library 1.0 million, pool 200K, Athletic fields 232K, Parks 222K, Ice Rink 157K.)

      To get a 20% cut out of this, it is going to mean cuts to services and staffing. It is going to be interesting to see where the cuts are going to come from.

    • 17.2
      Griff Wigley says:

      Kiffi, there’s more to life than City Hall. Nero fiddled while Rome burned and Tony Hayward went yachting. ;-)
      http://dealbook.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/21/bp-chief-draws-outrage-for-attending-yacht-race/

  • 18

    Griff,

    Here is what I could find on siren activation, as per the Chanhassen office of the National Weather service.

    Siren Activation Information
    http://www.crh.noaa.gov/mpx/?n=swaw#Sirens

    Counties and cities own the sirens, and therefore decide how and when to activate them. The National Weather Service does not sound them.

    There are many different policies regarding siren activation that are used by the various cities and counties. Some will activate sirens across the entire county for tornado warnings only. Others will activate sirens countywide for tornado warnings and all severe thunderstorm warnings. Some will activate sirens across the entire county for tornado warnings and severe thunderstorms that have winds of at least 70 or 75 mph. Others will activate sirens only for portions of counties. Local officials may also sound the sirens anytime they believe severe weather is a threat, even if there is no warning from the National Weather Service.

    Sirens normally sound for about three minutes, and then go silent. It is very rare to keep the sirens sounding for the entire warning, since that would cause the backup battery to run out, which would be critical in the event that power goes out. Furthermore, the siren motor will fail much more quickly if the siren sounds continuously. Some jurisdictions may repeat siren activation every few minutes.

    There is no such thing as an “all-clear” for storms.

    Please check with your local public safety officials for details on when warning sirens are sounded in your community.

    However, 60 MPH straight line winds is enough to do a significant amount of damage, coupled with the potential for hail.

    SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS PRODUCE DAMAGING WIND IN EXCESS OF 60 MILES PER
    HOUR…LARGE HAIL…AND DEADLY LIGHTNING. FOR YOUR PROTECTION MOVE TO
    AN INTERIOR ROOM ON THE LOWEST FLOOR OF YOUR HOME OR BUSINESS.

    I still believe that the folks we are dealing with are professionals, and that what they did on Thursday was necessary.

    I will propose this to you Griff. I will find out when the next free “Sky Warn -- Weather Spotter” class is, and we can both go, get trained, and know much more about the process, as well as know what the terms mean, and what to look for.

    Interested??

    I think we could both learn something, then debate this from an position of greater knowledge and understanding… plus Northfield would benefit from two additional weather spotters.

  • 19
    Jane Moline says:

    I think they are professionals that made a mistake on Thursday. There were no hail storsms or 60 mph winds that hit Northfield (or Dundas) and when I looked outside (the sirens signalling me to run for the road to see if I could see the storm coming) I did not see a hook or a funnel or even crazy wind patterns (which you can observe if you are not in the basement.)

    I have witnessed severe weather, including tornado and really really really big big biggest big hail. (I don’t even remember the sirens sounding for the big hail) and I don’t think the weather service has it all figured out yet but bully for trying. I think if you are old and infirm you should head for the basement but I am going to rely on my powers of observation to help me interpret what I think are frequent mistakes by the weather service. Including that I will take shelter if I think it is bad even if the sirens don’t sound.

    It was unfortunate to spoil the Taste of Northfield Thursday night for a mistake by the professionals.

    • 19.1
      William Siemers says:

      Jane…Your response to the sirens is a common one. When they go off, I head outside to check out the sky, as do many of my neighbors. (In a strange way the sirens are back at it, exhibiting their classical function…luring us to danger :-). But I don’t fault the officials who make the decision to sound the alarm even if they exhibit an excess of caution. In this case it’s too bad the ‘Taste’ had to be shut down, but better safe than sorry.

  • 20
    Nick Benson says:

    While I’m no longer active in the weather community, I’ve had the Skywarn training, worked as a software developer for a weather data distribution company, worked for a federal weather research lab, and have chased storms in every state between Minnesota and Texas. IMHO, John has hit the nail on the head with most of his comments, several of which which I’ll reiterate…

    If you’re going to be ornery, don’t direct your anger towards the NWS, I believe they did an excellent job handling the situation on Thursday; the NWS does not control the sirens, nor do they issue “directives” with regards to when they should be activated. Based on what Griff heard from Deputy Chief Chuck Walerius, I would guess the policy for Rice County is to sound the alarm whenever the NWS issues a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning; it would be interesting to follow up with him and find out if the sirens are sounded based on the new warning polygons that the NWS issues, or if they’re based strictly on a county level.

    The NWS used to issue warnings on a county level. For example, Northfield and Faribault would both be covered by a warning even if a tornado was moving east out of Dennison. Within the last couple of years they have started issuing warnings for areas outlined in a shape (polygon) that they define, which, in theory, fixes the tornado in Dennison problem. Unfortunately, I know many counties still base their decisions on the old model, where a warning anywhere in the county would trigger the sirens everywhere.

    For the record, Northfield was under a severe thunderstorm warning at 5:25 on June 17:

    http://kamala.cod.edu/offs/KMPX/1006172225.wuus53.html

    The northern boundary of that warning roughly ran from Le Sueur to Stanton, and cut right through the center of Northfield. The NWS absolutely made the right call in issuing that warning, luckily for Northfield, that cell dissipated as it moved north. I would guess that the NWS canceled that warning as the storm dissipated, but, I’m not able to find any evidence of that.

    A few minutes later, at 5:32, a tornado warning that impacted Rice County was issued, but, Northfield was not within the warning area:

    http://kamala.cod.edu/offs/KMPX/1006172232.wfus53.html

    As far as I can tell, those are the only warnings that impacted Rice County on June 17.

    With regards to tornados and radar, there’s more to it than just looking for a hook echo; while that’s certainly a good indicator, meteorologists are also looking at rotation and structure at several different levels (elevations) within the storm. The radar systems currently used by the NWS actually generate several different products in addition to what “civilians” are used to looking at, and determining whether or not to issue a warning requires looking at many of them.

    Tracy had mentioned a friend explaining that the sirens are activated by a certain wind speed. I believe that person was probably trying to explain the criteria for a severe thunderstorm warning, which is winds of 58+ MPH and/or 1″ (quarter sized) or larger hail.

    • 20.1

      Thank you for your comments Nick.

      Do you have any idea where I can start looking to obtain the SkyWarn training?

    • 20.2
      Phil Poyner says:

      Nick, this is without a doubt the best comment I’ve seen on this entire thread. It has a great overview of the current polygon system. It addresses the issue of the NWS having no control over each county’s siren system activation procedures. It touches on the means at hand to determine tornadic activity (I’d add spotter reports to the mix). But most importantly it points out something I found when I reviewed the text products: Northfield was never under a tornado warning…the closest warning just barely included the southwest portion of Rice County. I also assessed that we were on the very northern border of a Severe Thunderstorm polygon, basically as you described it.

      If the sirens are being activated by the county, then the County Emergency Manager (Jennifer Hauer-Schmitz) may be a more likely person to have the answers to follow-up questions.

    • 20.3
      Griff Wigley says:

      Nick, I don’t understand why the NWS would issue a severe thunderstorm warning for all of Rice County when the cell was 9 miles SE of Mankato. That’s a looooong way away… 40-50 miles.

      But it makes even less sense for the Pearl St. 911 Center in Owatonna to then trigger sirens for Northfield based on that NWS warning. At 40 MPH, it would take a full hour for the storm to get to Northfield. Not many people are going to sit in their basements or shelters for that long.

      If Pearl Street’s policy is to trigger sirens automatically based on NWS alerts, it needs to be revised IMHO.

      • 20.3.1
        Nick Benson says:

        John, Skywarn training is offerred every spring before the severe weather season gets started. Skywarn.org usually has a listing by state/county of classes as they’re announced.

        Phil, you are correct, I should have mentioned the role of spotters, but, nobody seemed to be saying anything that was blatantly incorrect about them :-)

        Griff, how much warning would you like that a life threatening situation was heading towards you? 5 minutes? 20 minutes? 40 minutes? As I said before, it was more or less dumb luck that Northfield didn’t get hit by that storm. In the event that it had made it there, I’m sure everyone would have been happy they had an hour to prepare for the dangerous part of the storm. Had Northfield been hit by that cell, I very much doubt anyone would be complaining that there was too much warning.

        The amount of lead time everyone needs to prepare for a storm varies wildly… some folks don’t want to be bothered until they need to dive into their storm shelter, others would prefer enough time to shut down a large outdoor street festival.

        Everyone should have access to a weather radio (make sure it works when and where you’ll need it to) or some other source of weather information so you can read or hear the full text of warnings and make decisions regarding your personal safety accordingly.

        That said, they probably could have held off on activating the sirens until a bit later than they did. Since most folks hit the deck when they hear the siren, it does seem a bit odd to activate it when the storm was still that distance away… but, that goes back to the “how much warning would you like” question.

      • 20.3.2
        Griff Wigley says:

        Very good question, Nick. As much as I’d like to have the sirens policy tailored to my personal preferences ;-) I do understand that it needs to be crafted for overall safety for the most number of people.

        And that’s been my point from the start, ie, that the NWS is inadvertently teaching people that sirens are not a hit-the-deck situation and that that mentality could end up contributing to more deaths than playing it overly safe on the chance that severe weather could hit sometime in the next hour.

      • 20.3.3
        Phil Poyner says:

        Griff, there’s also a feature to the polygon warning system (also called Storm Based Warnings) that Nick didn’t mention: tracking information. It’s contained in this paragraph at the bottom of the warning:

        LAT…LON 4390 9414 4449 9378 4445 9307 4420 9333
        4420 9341 4412 9341 4390 9363
        TIME…MOT…LOC 2226Z 216DEG 35KT 4409 9384
        WIND…HAIL 60MPH 1.75IN

        The LAT…LON describes the shape of the polygon. The TIME…MOT…LOC is the tracking info and it describes the start time of the track, the storm vector (moving out of 216 degrees at 35 knots), and the start location of the storm. Any county emergency action center has the ability to plot the data and decide for themselves what actions to take.

        The issue of desired lead times and their effect on the public is one the meteorological community takes very seriously, as you can see from just a small sample of papers that have been written on the topic:
        http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1024&context=usdeptcommercepub
        http://www.caps.ou.edu/reu/reu09/papers/Hoekstra.pdf
        http://www.nwas.org/ej/pdf/2009-EJ7.pdf

        The NWS is doing their part by having gone to a polygon system that allows them to define threat areas more specifically than ever before, and by including enough information in the warnings to allow emergency managers to tailor their actions so as to meet the requirements of their community. But, once again, the NWS doesn’t control the sirens. So, the NWS isn’t inadvertantly “teaching people that sirens are not a hit-the-deck situation”.

        And to commend Nick again, he gives an excellent description of the desired lead time dilemma.

        Additional info for John: The folks that provide Skywarn classes in the local area are a volunteer group called Metro Skywarn http://www.metroskywarn.org/. Info about classes usually appears on their site, on the Chanhassen NWS site http://www.crh.noaa.gov/mpx/?n=skywarn, and occasionally on the Rice County Sheriff’s site http://www.co.rice.mn.us/sheriff/index.php.

  • 21

    I am going to have to disagree with this statement:

    It was unfortunate to spoil the Taste of Northfield Thursday night for a mistake by the professionals.

    There were so many things counting against a good turnout for the Taste on Thursday, and most of them should be blamed on the weather, not the professionals that set off the sirens. When I was down there at about 5 PM, the winds were strong enough to blow the tents around a bit.

    If there is an emergency, you need enough time for the public to seek shelter, and the vendors to secure items. Advance warning is critical in this regard.

    Perhaps next year a stronger contingency plan will be in place, and the Taste will have a fallback. The fact that the Taste was scheduled over two days helped considerably, and the option to fall back to the Armory is a good one.

    Has the Taste looked into a business continuity policy for this event, that would cover expenses due to a rainout? They are not that terribly expensive, and many large events have that type of insurance coverage in place.

    • 21.1
      Griff Wigley says:

      John/Jane,

      Some of the vendors were already packing up before the sirens went off, especially those along 4th St. Some of it was likely based on their struggles with the windy conditions and some of it based on the approaching clouds and looking at the radar on their smartphones.

      And the crowd was small, too… people staying away based on the weather reports. The kid-oriented activities were not busy.

      But the vendors along the south side of Bridge Square were out of the wind and doing fine. And the James Gang was ready to do the re-enactment, primarily for the benefit of the Carleton Alums who were going to be bused to downtown. I’m guessing that would have happened were it not for the sirens that spooked everyone.

      And it would have been way cool to have been downtown for the spectacular sunset.

      So I think the truth is somewhere in between: the weather ruined it mostly and the ill-advised sirens made it worse.

      Thankfully, the NDDC Taste committee made the decision to have it two days this year.

  • 22
    Griff Wigley says:

    Here’s an example of cone-shaped indicators on a radar map that show the likely path of severe weather. I captured this a few minutes ago as storms approach the Mille Lacs/Brainerd area:

  • 23
    Anne Sawyer says:

    I actually work for the National Weather Service in Chanhassen, but I’m not a meteorologist -- I’m a snow hydrologist -- so forecasting isn’t my specialty. But, given my insider knowledge of the NWS, I want to second Nick’s replies to this issue -- he’s right on. And like he said, the NWS forecasters have access to vast amounts of information that the general public doesn’t have.

    However, when the sirens sounded on Thursday, my reaction was the same as Griff’s… sounding too early and for not (apparently) severe enough conditions can make people complacent. But what we have to remember is that what we see on the ground can often be VERY different from what the NWS forecasters see in the atmosphere.

    The NWS is well aware of the tendency for people to not take the warning system seriously. They keep track of statistics related to storm lead time (time between their warning issuance and when the storm hits) and they are striving for a certain window (~12 minutes, I believe) that will optimize preparedness without allowing people to let their guard down. Is that a difficult task? Oh, my yes. But, from their point of view, warning for a tornado that never materializes is GREATLY preferred to missing one altogether. They also keep statistics related to warning accuracy and false issuance -- they know it’s a problem, and they’re always striving to improve. I wish there was a better solution to this problem. The move from the county-based warnings to the polygon-based warnings was a huge breakthrough…

    I was watching the radar at work all afternoon on Thursday, and was absolutely astonished at how quickly these storms would materialize and turn severe… and then how quickly some would dissipate (like the one that was supposed to hit Northfield).

    As for when the sirens sound locally… that’s not for the NWS to decide. They issue warnings for the “polygons” and local authorities take it from there, as folks have already noted in previous posts. I know I was glad to have been at home that night rather than at the “Taste”… the lightening-enhanced rainbow looked spectacular from my porch! : )

    • 23.1
      Griff Wigley says:

      Anne, ’tis great to have you participating here.

      On a slow weather day (not today, apparently!), might you ask Todd Krause to see if he’d be willing to comment here? Or alternately, if I could interview him by phone?

  • 24
    Phil Poyner says:

    One additional thing about the warnings. There is a section of the warning called the tracking information. It’s contained within this paragraph:

    LAT…LON 4390 9414 4449 9378 4445 9307 4420 9333
    4420 9341 4412 9341 4390 9363
    TIME…MOT…LOC 2226Z 216DEG 35KT 4409 9384
    WIND…HAIL 60MPH 1.75IN

    The LAT…LON section describes the bounds of the warning polygon. The TIME…MOT…LOC section is the tracking information. It describes the time of the initial storm plot, the motion of that storm (in this case from 216 degrees at 35kts), and the location of the initial storm plot. As you can imagine, with this information an Emergency Operations Center could take out a map, draw in some lines, and get a very good estimation of where the storm is going to be from minute to minute. There may even be some GIS software out there that lets them plot the trajectory in a less manual manner.

    Regarding lead times and public perceptions, there is a lot of literature out there on the topic…a sign of how seriously the entire meteorological community takes the problem:
    http://www.caps.ou.edu/reu/reu09/papers/Hoekstra.pdf
    http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1024&context=usdeptcommercepub
    http://www.nwas.org/ej/pdf/2009-EJ7.pdf
    There are many others. The 12 minute window Anne spoke of above probably refers more to tornado warnings; I’ve seen the average warning leadtime nationally on tornados listed as anywhere from 8 to 13 minutes, depending on the study, so you can see where a 12 minute window might come from. For Severe Thunderstorms the lead time is usually longer, in part because a thunderstorm is easier to identify as already occuring. The balance between FAR (False Alarm Rates) and POD (Probability od Detection) is one thats tracked by virtually every meteorological service worldwide, and everyone is quite aware of the risks of leaning more towards one or the other.

    And once again, in case you missed it, the NWS does not control the sirens. In fact, as I showed you above, the NWS actually gives Emergency Managers the information to time-phase their siren activation (if that is even possible on their system, and supposing they considered that something desirable thing to do).

    • 24.1
      Phil Poyner says:

      Crud, I thought comment 20.3.3 had been lost in the ether…and then it pops back up 10 hours later. What up wit dat? Anyway, that makes this comment mostly redundant…sorry about that.

      • 24.1.1
        Griff Wigley says:

        Sorry, Phil. It got held up because of the multiple links and I didn’t have time to compare it to your previous comment.

        Should I still keep both or delete one?

      • 24.1.2
        Phil Poyner says:

        Griff, these things happen…technology and perfection seldom go together! We can keep both, and I can start talking about how I’ve taken on a new job with a branch of the federal government known as the “Department of Redundancy”! The pay would come in triplicate!

    • 24.2
      Griff Wigley says:

      Phil,

      Your employer is officially known as the Department of Redundancy Department.

  • 25

    To Phil and others, one of the things people don’t understand about ancient systems is that ancient people had only their physical senses and experiences to understand the world around them. Nature, including planets, luminaries, and growth cycles of plants, as well as animal behavior, are all valid objects to watch and relate to weather events. Most plants and animals will change visibly as weather changes. I think this led to a little thing we now call empirical science.The only difference is we have people with technology instead of people living in it on a daily basis.

    It’s best not to rely on others to determine your own safety level and what to do about it. Stay in tune with your own body and mind and let the budget be balanced.

    • 25.1
      Phil Poyner says:

      You may not realize this, but empirical relationships are still widely used in the Atmospheric Sciences. Bill Gray’s Hurricane forecasts at Colorado State are, for the most part, nothing more than a variety of empirical relationships that he tweaks from year to year (things like “How moist was the Sahel this year, is it an El Nino year, etc). Even in satellite product algorithms empirical relationships are used…the rainfall products that come from passive microwave sensors use a physical model over the oceans, but over land they use an empirical relationship (I think it’s based on ice crystal content, or something of that nature). I guess what I saying is that even cutting edge meteorology depends on empirical answers to those things we don’t yet physically (i.e. I can write an equation to describe it) understand. As Hydrology is, in some ways, an even younger science, I imagine they use even more empiricals tools than we do.

      As far as relying on your personal senses of nature in order to stay safe from weather phenomena, I don’t want to discount it entirely. When I was in the military we used to practice something called “Single Station Analysis and Forecasting”, and one of the exercises we did was taking a weather observation using nothing more than our senses. We were all amazed to see just how accurate we could be, but it may have helped that we were also all experienced observers. However, there are some striking statistics regarding deaths from tornados before and after the advent of a national warning system. Previously it was not unusual to hear of hundreds of deaths occuring during any one particular event…and these were among people that were as close to nature any in our culture ever got, folks like farmers. Those kinds of death totals don’t happen anymore, and I think it’s because people get warned. Not just by sirens, but by TV, the internet, radio, you name it. Now, I’m not telling anybody to do anything; we’re all free to do what we will with any info we may happen to receive. But I also remember this derecho wind event in upstate New York…the birds were chirping as usual right up to seconds before it came through. In fact, the only reason I couldn’t hear the birds anymore was because the roar of the approaching winds blocked them out. That amount of warning would have given me about 30 seconds to reach cover. I’ll take 30 minutes warning over 30 seconds any day! But that’s just me.

  • 26

    Well, I don’t know anything about the large number of deaths in rural areas prior to the National Warning System, but I suspect it had a lot to do with waking people up from deep sleep, if they had weather radios, because there is no sirens out on any rural farm anywhere I have seen.

    It’s like the people who train dogs in the field. Don’t train them with treats, cuz you may run out of treats some day. Train them with positive reinforcement, cuz you will always find some of that in your pocket.

    I wake up when the barometer changes and I don’t sleep until it’s over. I haven’t dulled my senses with sleeping pills or caffeine or other stimulants or depressants, so I can actually feel what is going on around me.

    The other thing that may be responsible for saving rural lives is the advent of storm shelters. People had small in ground storage areas for food, but learned to build the storm shelter for family size living for a few days, complete with food,
    coinciding with nuclear bomb shelters. So maybe the nuclear bomb has redeemed itself. Something to think about.

    • 26.1
      Anne Sawyer says:

      Phil, thanks for clarifying my 12-minute lead time comment. You’re correct -- the 12-minute lead time is for tornadoes. I’m not sure what it is for severe thunderstorms, but I would agree that it’s longer.

      And yes, empirical relationships in hydrology are everywhere! Take the stage-discharge relationship for river forecasting… if the river is x-feet high, then we can estimate y-cfs of flow. Empirical relationships work really well for routine events (i.e. non-flood flows) that are easily measured but they have a very difficult time during extreme events.

      I agree that being in touch with your body and your environment and taking clues from your surroundings is an excellent way to avoid being sucked up by a tornado. Unfortunately, the reality today is that many people spend very little time being aware of their environment and are too distracted to pay attention to changes that could alert them to a life-threatening situation. Additionally, people look to other people for clues for how to behave in an emergency and often, nobody wants to make the first move in the name of safety. It’s been very well documented (you can check Wikipedia) that groupthink can lead people to make very poor decisions in potentially life-threatening situations. This theme is pounded into your head in avalanche safety courses, and for good reason. I’ve witnessed groupthink lead to people getting caught in an avalanche… luckily, they all survived. The same type of thing happens all the time in the summer -- people are reluctant to call off softball games, golf tournaments, etc. in the name of weather safety.

  • 27
    Griff Wigley says:

    So we now have a flash flood warning for Rice County and surroundings. No sirens yet. ;-)

    ========

    BULLETIN -- EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
    FLASH FLOOD WARNING
    NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TWIN CITIES/CHANHASSEN MN
    850 PM CDT SAT JUN 26 2010

    THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN THE TWIN CITIES HAS ISSUED A

    * FLASH FLOOD WARNING FOR…
    DAKOTA COUNTY IN EAST CENTRAL MINNESOTA…
    FREEBORN COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…
    LE SUEUR COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…
    RICE COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…
    SCOTT COUNTY IN EAST CENTRAL MINNESOTA…
    STEELE COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…
    WASECA COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…

    * UNTIL 230 AM CDT

    * AT 845 PM CDT…NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED
    THUNDERSTORMS WITH VERY HEAVY RAINFALL MOVING INTO THE WARNED
    AREA. RAINFALL RATES OF 1 TO 2 INCHES AN HOUR WILL AREA EXPECTED
    TO ACCOMPANY THE STORMS. THESE HIGH RATES WILL CAUSE RAPID RUNOFF
    INTO STREAMS…DITCHES AND LOW LYING AREAS.

    * RUNOFF FROM THIS EXCESSIVE RAINFALL WILL CAUSE FLASH FLOODING TO
    OCCUR. SOME LOCATIONS THAT WILL EXPERIENCE FLOODING INCLUDE…
    ALBERT LEA…FARIBAULT…HAYWARD…OWATONNA…WASECA…ALDEN…
    APPLE VALLEY…BELLE PLAINE…BLOOMING PRAIRIE…BURNSVILLE…
    CASTLE ROCK…CLARKS GROVE…CLEVELAND…CREDIT RIVER…
    DUNDAS…EAGAN…ELKO…ELLENDALE…ELYSIAN…FARMINGTON…
    FREEBORN…GENEVA…GLENVILLE…HAMPTON AND HELENA.

    RAINFALL AMOUNTS THROUGH 1 AM WILL LIKELY RANGE FROM 1 TO 3 INCHES
    ACROSS MUCH OF THE WARNED AREA.

    PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

    EXCESSIVE RUNOFF FROM HEAVY RAINFALL WILL CAUSE FLOODING OF SMALL
    CREEKS AND STREAMS…HIGHWAYS AND UNDERPASSES. ADDITIONALLY…
    COUNTRY ROADS AND FARMLANDS ALONG THE BANKS OF CREEKS…STREAMS AND
    OTHER LOW LYING AREAS ARE SUBJECT TO FLOODING.

    • 27.1
      Phil Poyner says:

      Severe Thunderstorm too…still no sirens.

      …A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR RICE…LE
      SUEUR…SCOTT AND SOUTHWESTERN DAKOTA COUNTIES UNTIL 1015 PM CDT…

      AT 900 PM CDT…NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE RADAR INDICATED A LINE OF
      SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS CAPABLE OF PRODUCING DESTRUCTIVE WINDS IN EXCESS
      OF 75 MPH. THESE STORMS WERE LOCATED ALONG A LINE EXTENDING FROM 5
      MILES WEST OF BELLE PLAINE TO LE SUEUR TO KASOTA…MOVING EAST AT 35
      MPH. PENNY SIZE HAIL MAY ALSO ACCOMPANY THESE DAMAGING WINDS.

      LOCATIONS IMPACTED INCLUDE…
      FARIBAULT…ST HENRY…BELLE PLAINE…LE CENTER…ELYSIAN…
      JORDAN…MONTGOMERY…ST BENEDICT…HELENA…NEW PRAGUE…
      KILKENNY…WATERVILLE…MARYSTOWN…VESELI…LONSDALE…PRIOR
      LAKE…MORRISTOWN…WEBSTER…WARSAW AND NEW MARKET.

      PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

      THIS IS A DANGEROUS SITUATION. IF YOU ARE IN THE PATH OF THIS
      STORM…PREPARE IMMEDIATELY FOR DESTRUCTIVE WINDS…WHICH CAN UPROOT
      TREES…DOWN POWER LINES…AND CAUSE DAMAGE TO ROOFS AND WINDOWS.
      EVACUATE MOBILE HOMES AS THEY MAY BE OVERTURNED. HAIL IS ALSO
      EXPECTED…WHICH CAN CAUSE DAMAGE TO VEHICLES AND WINDOWS. SEEK
      SHELTER NOW INSIDE A STURDY STRUCTURE AND STAY AWAY FROM WINDOWS.

      THIS STORM HAS A HISTORY OF PRODUCING DESTRUCTIVE WINDS. SEEK
      SHELTER NOW INSIDE A STURDY STRUCTURE AND STAY AWAY FROM WINDOWS!

  • 28
    Griff Wigley says:

    And now a severe thunderstorm warning. No sirens yet.

    Statement as of 9:04 PM CDT on June 26, 2010
    Severe Thunderstorm Warning

    … A Severe Thunderstorm Warning remains in effect for Rice… Le
    Sueur… Scott and southwestern Dakota counties until 1015 PM CDT…

    At 900 PM CDT… National Weather Service radar indicated a line of
    severe thunderstorms capable of producing destructive winds in excess
    of 75 mph. These storms were located along a line extending from 5
    miles west of Belle Plaine to Le Sueur to Kasota… moving east at 35
    mph. Penny size hail may also accompany these damaging winds.

    Locations impacted include…
    Faribault… St Henry… Belle Plaine… Le Center… Elysian…
    Jordan… Montgomery… St Benedict… Helena… New Prague…
    Kilkenny… Waterville… Marystown… Veseli… Lonsdale… Prior
    Lake… Morristown… Webster… Warsaw and New Market.

    Precautionary/preparedness actions…

    This is a dangerous situation. If you are in the path of this
    storm… prepare immediately for destructive winds… which can uproot
    trees… down power lines… and cause damage to roofs and windows.
    Evacuate Mobile homes as they may be overturned. Hail is also
    expected… which can cause damage to vehicles and windows. Seek
    shelter now inside a sturdy structure and stay away from windows.

    This storm has a history of producing destructive winds. Seek
    shelter now inside a sturdy structure and stay away from windows!

    Lat… Lon 4424 9378 4425 9402 4434 9394 4439 9396
    4450 9389 4455 9391 4461 9388 4471 9363
    4475 9333 4474 9302 4451 9296 4451 9304
    4427 9303 4420 9307 4420 9377
    time… Mot… loc 0204z 269deg 30kt 4464 9383 4445 9378
    4427 9385
    wind… hail 75mph 0.75in

    Statement as of 9:03 PM CDT on June 26, 2010
    Severe Thunderstorm Watch

    Severe Thunderstorm Watch 419 remains in effect until 300 am CDT

    MN
    . Minnesota counties included are

    Blue Earth Brown Carver
    Dakota Dodge Faribault
    Fillmore Freeborn Goodhue
    Houston Le Sueur McLeod
    Martin Mower Nicollet
    Olmsted Rice Scott
    Sibley Steele Wabasha
    Waseca Watonwan Winona

  • 29
    Griff Wigley says:

    And now a tornado warning. No sirens yet:

    =========

    Statement as of 9:11 PM CDT on June 26, 2010
    Tornado Warning

    The National Weather Service in the Twin Cities has issued a

    * Tornado Warning for…
    southeastern Scott County in east central Minnesota…
    northeastern Le Sueur County in south central Minnesota…
    northwestern Rice County in south central Minnesota…

    * until 945 PM CDT

    * at 909 PM CDT… radar was tracking a severe storm with strong
    rotation. The most dangerous part of the storm was 5 miles west of
    Heidelberg… or about 6 miles north of Le Center… and moving east
    at 40 mph.

    * Locations in the warning include…
    Montgomery…
    New Prague…
    St Benedict…
    Helena…
    Veseli…
    Lonsdale…
    Webster…
    New Market…
    Elko…
    Heidelberg…

    Precautionary/preparedness actions…

    When a Tornado Warning is issued based on radar… it means that
    strong rotation has been detected in the storm. A tornado may already
    be on the ground… or is expected to develop shortly.

    Lat… Lon 4453 9386 4467 9332 4463 9332 4462 9329
    4448 9329 4448 9314 4447 9314 4436 9379
    time… Mot… loc 0211z 253deg 33kt 4447 9369

  • 30
    Griff Wigley says:

    New warning. Northfield not yet listed but it’s close:

    ==========

    SEVERE WEATHER STATEMENT
    NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TWIN CITIES/CHANHASSEN MN
    921 PM CDT SAT JUN 26 2010
    SCOTT MN-LE SUEUR MN-RICE MN-
    921 PM CDT SAT JUN 26 2010

    …A TORNADO WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR NORTHWESTERN RICE…
    NORTHEASTERN LE SUEUR AND SOUTHEASTERN SCOTT COUNTIES UNTIL 945 PM
    CDT…

    AT 919 PM CDT…NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE RADAR INDICATED A SEVERE
    THUNDERSTORM CAPABLE OF PRODUCING A TORNADO. THIS DANGEROUS STORM
    WAS LOCATED NEAR NEW PRAGUE…OR 21 MILES NORTHEAST OF ST PETER…
    MOVING NORTHEAST AT 35 MPH.

    LOCATIONS IMPACTED INCLUDE…
    NEW PRAGUE…HELENA…ST BENEDICT…VESELI…LONSDALE…WEBSTER…
    NEW MARKET AND ELKO.

    PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

    TORNADOES ARE DIFFICULT TO SEE AT NIGHT. TAKE COVER NOW.

  • 31
  • 32
    Griff Wigley says:

    New severe thunderstorm warning. Northfield mentioned this time. No sirens yet:

    =========

    SEVERE WEATHER STATEMENT
    NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TWIN CITIES/CHANHASSEN MN
    926 PM CDT SAT JUN 26 2010
    DAKOTA MN-SCOTT MN-LE SUEUR MN-RICE MN-
    926 PM CDT SAT JUN 26 2010

    …A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR RICE…LE
    SUEUR…SCOTT AND SOUTHWESTERN DAKOTA COUNTIES UNTIL 1015 PM CDT…

    AT 923 PM CDT…NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE RADAR INDICATED A LINE OF
    SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS CAPABLE OF PRODUCING DESTRUCTIVE WINDS IN EXCESS
    OF 75 MPH. THESE STORMS WERE LOCATED ALONG A LINE EXTENDING FROM
    JORDAN TO MONTGOMERY TO ELYSIAN…MOVING EAST AT 40 MPH.

    LOCATIONS IMPACTED INCLUDE…
    FARIBAULT…MARYSTOWN…WATERVILLE…VESELI…LONSDALE…PRIOR
    LAKE…WEBSTER…NEW MARKET…MORRISTOWN…CREDIT RIVER…CRYSTAL
    BAY…ELKO…WARSAW…DUNDAS…LAKEVILLE…NORTHFIELD…CASTLE
    ROCK…FARMINGTON…RUSKIN AND RANDOLPH.

    PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

    THIS IS A DANGEROUS SITUATION. IF YOU ARE IN THE PATH OF THIS
    STORM…PREPARE IMMEDIATELY FOR DESTRUCTIVE WINDS…WHICH CAN UPROOT
    TREES…DOWN POWER LINES…AND CAUSE DAMAGE TO WINDOWS. EVACUATE
    MOBILE HOMES AS THEY MAY BE OVERTURNED. SEEK SHELTER NOW INSIDE A
    STURDY STRUCTURE AND STAY AWAY FROM WINDOWS.

    THIS STORM HAS A HISTORY OF PRODUCING DESTRUCTIVE WINDS. SEEK
    SHELTER NOW INSIDE A STURDY STRUCTURE AND STAY AWAY FROM WINDOWS!

    WIND…HAIL 75MPH <.75IN

  • 33
    Griff Wigley says:

    Another one:

    ===========
    SEVERE WEATHER STATEMENT
    NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TWIN CITIES/CHANHASSEN MN
    935 PM CDT SAT JUN 26 2010
    DAKOTA MN-SCOTT MN-LE SUEUR MN-RICE MN-
    935 PM CDT SAT JUN 26 2010

    …A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR RICE…EASTERN
    LE SUEUR…SCOTT AND SOUTHWESTERN DAKOTA COUNTIES UNTIL 1015 PM
    CDT…

    AT 932 PM CDT…NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE RADAR INDICATED A LINE OF
    SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS CAPABLE OF PRODUCING DESTRUCTIVE WINDS IN EXCESS
    OF 75 MPH. THESE STORMS WERE LOCATED ALONG A LINE EXTENDING FROM
    PRIOR LAKE TO LONSDALE TO WATERVILLE…MOVING EAST AT 40 MPH.

    LOCATIONS IMPACTED INCLUDE…
    FARIBAULT…WEBSTER…NEW MARKET…MORRISTOWN…CREDIT RIVER…
    CRYSTAL BAY…ELKO…WARSAW…DUNDAS…LAKEVILLE…CASTLE ROCK…
    NORTHFIELD…FARMINGTON…RUSKIN…RANDOLPH…NERSTRAND…COATES…
    HAMPTON AND BRIDGEWATER.

  • 34
    Griff Wigley says:

    New alert. Still no sirens:

    =========

    SEVERE WEATHER STATEMENT
    NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TWIN CITIES/CHANHASSEN MN
    946 PM CDT SAT JUN 26 2010
    DAKOTA MN-SCOTT MN-LE SUEUR MN-RICE MN-
    946 PM CDT SAT JUN 26 2010

    …A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR RICE…EASTERN
    LE SUEUR…EASTERN SCOTT AND SOUTHWESTERN DAKOTA COUNTIES UNTIL 1015
    PM CDT…

    AT 942 PM CDT…NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE RADAR INDICATED A LINE OF
    SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS CAPABLE OF PRODUCING DESTRUCTIVE WINDS IN EXCESS
    OF 75 MPH. THESE STORMS WERE LOCATED ALONG A LINE EXTENDING FROM
    CRYSTAL BAY TO DUNDAS TO MORRISTOWN…MOVING EAST AT 40 MPH.

    LOCATIONS IMPACTED INCLUDE…
    FARIBAULT…DUNDAS…LAKEVILLE…NORTHFIELD…CASTLE ROCK…

  • 35
    Patrick Enders says:

    Phil and Griff,
    Thanks for all the links. Those sites were quite useful in quickly understanding what was going on when the sirens went off last night.

    Now I just need to figure out where “weather” fits in my bookmarking scheme…

  • 36
    Griff Wigley says:

    July 1 Strib: Wailing sirens don’t always mean tornadoes

    Some wonder, though, if turning on the sirens too often desensitizes residents, who might start to take the warnings less seriously. "We feel like it might be so often that people might get cry-wolf syndrome," said Deb Paige, emergency management director for Washington County.

    "There are a lot of thunderstorm warnings, and although thunderstorm warnings are a safety issue, we agree with most of the rest of the state in the fact that setting off outdoor warning for thunderstorm warnings is inappropriate," said John Tonding, communications manager for Anoka County.

  • 37
    Griff Wigley says:

    Anyone know if the Rice County commissioners could decide to adopt a different policy re: the use of sirens for Rice County than the one currently being used by the Pearl St. 911 center?

    • 37.1
      Phil Poyner says:

      Griff, check out this article from the Faribault Daily News:
      http://www.faribault.com/news.php?viewStory=100490

      Apparently Rice County also has a deputy director of emergency management services, John Rowan. He is under the mistaken impression that “The National Weather Service can tell towns in Rice County to turn on its sirens” for severe weather events. I can’t believe I have to keep pounding this point home, but the NWS simply issues the warnings; it does not tell any local governmental entity what to do with them.

  • 38
    Griff Wigley says:

    Thanks, Phil. I wonder if that’s a mistake by Rowan or a mistake by the reporter.

  • 39
    Griff Wigley says:

    We got an email from Northfield Police Chief Mark Taylor yesterday, alerting us to several new paragraphs on the PD web page with the heading, What to do if the sirens sound.

    Am I reading it wrong or does there seem to be some conflicting info in these two paragraphs, ie, “The NWS… determines… if sirens should be activated” and then “Pearl Street 911 Dispatch Center… has the primary responsibility to sound all sirens in the county”:

    How is it determined if the sirens are activated?

    The National Weather Service, trained Skywarn Spotters or any local public safety official determines if there is a weather threat, and if sirens should be activated. Sirens will be activated in the case of a Tornado Warning – either radar indicated or reports from trained spotters. If high winds are reported – typically exceeding the severe thunderstorm warning threshold of 58 MPH or greater the sirens may be activated. In the case of non-weather emergencies local public safety officials determine the need to activate the outdoor warning system.

    Who sounds the sirens?

    Pearl Street 911 Dispatch Center (dispatches public safety for Rice and Steele County including Northfield) has the primary responsibility to sound all sirens in the county. Pearl Street has overall operations policies and guidelines which provide direction and guidance for warning system activation. Northfield Emergency Operations can also activate the local outdoor warning system if needed.

  • 40
    Griff Wigley says:

    The Nfld News has repurposed the Fbo Daily News story for its front page today: The sound of sirens. http://northfieldnews.com/news.php?viewStory=53407

  • 41
    Griff Wigley says:

    "Explosively unstable"? Time to clean out the area underneath your basement stairs, folks. Paul Douglas in the Strib at 11:30 am today: Tornado Threat Growing across west central Minnesota

    Tornado Bulls eye? This is the prediction of EHI, the energy helicity index, which factors in wind shear and instability into one index. The forecast is valid around the dinner hour Wednesday. The highest values can be found across southern MN and Iowa, where the atmosphere is forecast to become explosively unstable Wednesday afternoon/evening.

  • 42
    Griff Wigley says:

    Oooh, radar’s looking juicy for later this morning!

    And we’re in the bulls eye for later this aft. Paul Douglas blog post:

    Many ingredients are converging which may go on to spawn isolated tornadoes later today. Most of us will only see a generic thunderstorms, a tiny fraction of 1% of Minnesota may experience a tornado. Right now the best chance appears to be east of I-35, south/east of the Twin Cities during the mid/late afternoon hours.

  • 43
    Griff Wigley says:

    1 PM Paul Douglas update:

    Very high moisture levels (dew points of 75-80) just south of the metro will fuel a line of severe storms between 1:30 and 4:00 pm, best chance of tornadic storms south of MSP, from New Ulm and Glencoe to Mankato, Northfield, Owatonna and Rochester area.

  • 44
    Griff Wigley says:

    2:27 warning:

    BULLETIN -- IMMEDIATE BROADCAST REQUESTED
    SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING
    NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TWIN CITIES/CHANHASSEN MN
    227 PM CDT WED JUL 14 2010

    THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN THE TWIN CITIES HAS ISSUED A

    * SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING FOR…
    WESTERN GOODHUE COUNTY IN SOUTHEAST MINNESOTA…
    EASTERN RICE COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…

    * UNTIL 330 PM CDT

    * AT 222 PM CDT…RADAR INDICATED A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM…CAPABLE OF
    PRODUCING QUARTER SIZE HAIL AND DAMAGING WINDS IN EXCESS OF 60 MPH.
    THIS STORM WAS LOCATED 5 MILES SOUTH OF FARIBAULT…AND MOVING
    NORTHEAST AT 25 MPH.

    ANOTHER POTENTIAL SEVERE STORM WAS LOCATED 10 MILES NORTH OF
    FARIBAULT.

    LOCATIONS IN THE WARNING INCLUDE…
    FARIBAULT…
    RUSKIN…
    NERSTRAND…
    KENYON…
    DENNISON…
    BOMBAY…
    STANTON…
    WANAMINGO…
    WASTEDO…
    HADER…

    PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

    IF YOU ARE IN THE PATH OF THIS STORM…PREPARE IMMEDIATELY FOR
    DAMAGING WINDS IN EXCESS OF 60 MPH AND LARGE HAIL. SEEK SHELTER NOW
    INSIDE A STURDY STRUCTURE AND STAY AWAY FROM WINDOWS.

    DOPPLER RADAR HAS INDICATED SOME WEAK ROTATION WITHIN THIS STORM.
    WHILE NOT IMMEDIATELY LIKELY…A TORNADO MAY STILL DEVELOP. IF A
    TORNADO IS SPOTTED…ACT QUICKLY AND MOVE TO A PLACE OF SAFETY IN A
    STURDY STRUCTURE…SUCH AS A BASEMENT OR SMALL INTERIOR ROOM.

    REPORT ANY SIGNIFICANT WIND OR HAIL DAMAGE TO THE NEAREST LAW
    ENFORCEMENT AGENCY…FOR RELAY TO THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE.

    A TORNADO WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 400 PM CDT WEDNESDAY
    AFTERNOON FOR SOUTHERN MINNESOTA AND NORTHWESTERN WISCONSIN.

    WIND…HAIL 60MPH 1.00IN

  • 45
    Griff Wigley says:

    Tornado reported on the ground 1 mile north of Northfield, according to MPR. No sirens.

  • 46
    Griff Wigley says:

    Sirens sounded a few minutes ago but I think it was over/passed by then.

  • 47
  • 48
    Griff Wigley says:

    On June 17, the sirens were way early for a storm that never arrived; on June 26, the sirens were timed perfectly for a not-quite-severe thunderstorm; today, they were late for a real tornado.

  • 49
  • 50
    Griff Wigley says:

    Last week’s tornadoes touched down at 2:20 pm and 2:30pm according to this Nfld News recap: Three tornadoes touch down.

    At 2:36pm, MPR reported a tornado on the ground.

    The sirens in Northfield sounded at around 2:38 pm.

    Is this typical or did something fail?

    • 50.1
      Phil Poyner says:

      It’s always possible that somebody decided to inform the media before they called law enforcement. The more likely scenario is that media, which can simply announce that “someone” saw a tornado without actually having to confirm it, is a little more likely to announce a tornado than the emergency services, who would prefer a report they felt was trust-worthy. If they sound alarms based on reports from Joe Bagodonuts, the village drunk of Lonsdale, then they are going to have to put up with a bunch of people wondering after-the-fact why the sirens sounded when there was no tornado…and why their taste of Northfield got cancelled, etc, etc. Emergency services, who are a heck of a lot more accountable than the media, has to balance accuracy vs timeliness. They do their best, but when the storm actually develops nearby you’re not going to get much or any warning beyond the watch that was already posted.

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