Warren County

Guest Commentary: Severe Weather 101

By Jim Sharp, Warren County Emergency Management Director
Posted 4/8/24

Guest Commentary from Warren County Emergency Management Director Jim Sharp on how to prepare for severe weather.

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Warren County

Guest Commentary: Severe Weather 101


Hello, everyone! Jim Sharp here, I’m the Emergency Management Director for Warren County, and I’d like to take a few minutes of your time to talk about the severe weather outbreak we experienced on March 14, and severe weather in general.

March 14 saw one tornado watch, two tornado warnings, and four severe thunderstorm warnings issued for Warren County, all issued that afternoon within a four-hour time frame, plus a severe thunderstorm watch issued that morning. The first of the tornado warnings, which encompassed almost all of Warren County, was issued as school busses were on their homeward routes, and the fact that no students or staff were injured speaks volumes to the time, effort and resources committed by our schools and school districts to the safety of the children – including my own – that we entrust to their care.

In keeping with the warning theme, let’s talk about how severe weather warnings are generated and disseminated. Technology-wise, there have never been more available methods of receiving severe weather or other emergency information: Code Red, our community mass notification system, NOAA weather-alert radios, smart-phone apps, push messages, TV and radio broadcasts, the outdoor warning system sirens and more. With all that, there is a method that gets overlooked on a fairly regular basis – our eyes. Long before we had any of the elements listed above, we had our eyes. We looked out the window, and if what we saw looked dangerous, we went inside and took shelter. That still works!

How else might a severe weather warning be issued? I’m glad you asked! Generally, the National Weather Service issues tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings based on radar information, storm history, current supportive conditions, reports from trained spotters and more. Once issued, these warnings are sent out to the media, 911 centers, emergency managers, and others. Newer-model outdoor warning sirens are also activated automatically by a National Weather Service Tornado Warning, but warnings can also be generated by local entities. For example, a member of the public sees a tornado and calls 911. The 911 center will notify me and I will contact the National Weather Service and request a Tornado Warning be issued. Similarly, if our 911 Center is suddenly inundated with reports of trees down, power poles down, roof damage, etc., they would notify me and I would request a tornado warning from the National Weather Service. In both these examples, we would activate the outdoor warning system sirens even if the National Weather Service had not yet issued any official warning.

Speaking of the sirens, they are intended to do just one thing: let people who are outside know enough to go inside and find additional information. That’s all. That’s it. They are not intended to wake anyone up, to be heard inside a building, or to be heard inside a vehicle and, as they are outside, they are susceptible to the effects of the storm.

Once the storm line had moved through on March 14th, I received several pictures of what was pretty clearly a funnel cloud. Yet a check with Joint Communications verified that no one had called 911 to report it. Ladies and gentlemen, seeing a funnel cloud descending from a storm is absolutely cause to call 911. That National Weather Service radar is not all-seeing. Your sighting might be the first indication we have of a tornadic storm, or it might verify or support what the National Weather Service is seeing on their radar and cause them to issue a warning. In either example, we may be able to shave seconds – or longer – off the time it takes to issue a warning. Seconds count.

Know what else counts? Knowing what to do and where to take shelter if a warning is issued. So, if you own or operate a business, I have a question for you: In an emergency, who’s in charge? Who is responsible for telling your customers where to go and what to do? Need a hint? If you are not physically there, it’s not you.

In the emergency services, recognizing who’s in charge is relatively easy. White shirt, white helmet, gold badge, stripes on the sleeve or brass on the collar; it’s a pretty sure bet someone with those attributes is running the show – or at least part of the show. Yet in the private sector it’s not as regimented. The person “in charge” during an emergency may be the senior employee present, or may not be. Running the show in the private sector comes down to people having the ability, the authority, and the willingness to do so. One can teach ability and grant authority, but willingness? That’s either there on the part of the employee or it’s not.

Regardless, each of your employees is, in a very real sense, your agent. If an emergency impacts your business – a fire, severe weather, take your pick – your customers and guests are going to look to your staff for guidance and direction. If that staff member is the assistant manager who has been with you for ten years, you are probably confident in his or her ability, but what if he or she is a 17-year-old high school junior that you hired six months ago, working his or her first “real” job? How’s your confidence level now?

Let’s extend that confidence topic a bit. How are you going to respond when, during the next severe weather event, your employees look to you and say, “Hey, boss – what are we going to do?” – or when your kids look at you and say, “Mom, Dad, this is scary. What should we do?” Here are a few tips that are applicable in both a home and business environment:

  • Pay attention to your surroundings and to local weather conditions. Earlier in this article I spoke about radar not seeing everything. If the weather where you are makes you wonder why the sirens are not sounding or why a warning has not been issued, you should be under cover.
  • Know where your severe weather shelter area is (at home, at work, at school, wherever you are). If you’re not sure, ask. If you’re responsible for identifying that place and you’re not sure, ask us – we can provide some direction.
  • Have more than one way to receive emergency information. Code Red is the community mass notification system used in Warren County. Registration is free, and takes less than 5 minutes: Go to our website (warrencountyema.com), click on the Code Red logo on the home page, and follow the prompts.