Moore tornado a reminder for Union Countians to be vigilant and prepare

The phrase “no words can describe” is probably overused but after seeing some of the TV coverage of the tornado damage in Moore, Okla., I would think this is a case where it does apply.
Perhaps the Union Countians who experienced the storms that have struck the Martintown and West Union areas have a sense of the destruction but the extent of devastation is likely incomprehensible unless one is forced to experience it – not unlike aftermath of 9/11.
Seeing the coverage also reminded me that Union County is probably statistically overdue for another tornado or at least a serious storm. We may not be in tornado alley, but tornadoes are still an accepted part of life in our region and the season is here. We have been threatened by weather several times in the past year, only to see the worst of it go north or south of us, or weaken before it gets here.
That can’t keep on forever.
We may not be able to turn away a tornado, but at least there are inexpensive tools available to improve our chances of survival, if we will only make use of them.
For instance, a weather radio can be purchased for less than $30. The newer ones not only have alarms to wake one up, but they can give county-specific warnings rather than upsetting residents with what amounts to false alarms because they are not for local areas.
For an even lower price – free, as it happens – Union County residents can sign up for the Code Red service. This is a commercial service but provided free to residents with the help of funding from the county government and from Three Rivers Planning an Development District.
The service can make automated phone warning calls in the event of a tornado warning, severe thunderstorm warning or flash flood warning. Calls can also be made to alert residents concerning missing persons, fugitives or other hazardous situations. The extra value of Code Red is that the calls are made to all participating persons’ phones inside a geographical box or area. That means a warning only goes to those areas directly in the path of a storm and does not alarm others unnecessarily, whether it be a few houses or the entire county.
If someone doesn’t answer, Code Red will call back shortly or leave a message.
If you don’t live in Union County, a similar service is offered for a fairly low fee through a local TV station.
Another option for the many residents who own so-called police scanners.
They can pick up local ham radio weather nets in which hams and trained storm spotters report dangerous weather conditions and events in the area.
Scanners and weather radios are available is stores locally but should have battery power or backup because power is likely to be lost; even cell phone towers do go down.
Perhaps the most popular tool, thanks to the widespread use of smartphones, is a phone application. There are many, most are free or only cost a couple of dollars, and can provide up-to-the-minute information. One I have can zoom its radar display in to show just the area a couple of blocks around my home if I wish.
One more tool is expensive – until one needs it and then it is a bargain indeed.
That’s the storm shelter.
Now one can purchase a variety of above- and below-ground shelters in the several-thousand-dollar range. At times, the federal government offers grants to pay for a large part of the cost of a shelter but, sadly, this is usually not available until after an area has experienced a severe storm.
Still, with a tornado even slightly less severe than the one that hit Moore, being in a designated shelter is likely the only way to survive a direct hit.
New Albany does have two warning sirens, but they can’t cover the entire city and their range can be affected by wind blowing in the wrong directions. I believe the cost for one is around $20,000 or more so the city is not likely to buy many more. Also, unless the policy has changed, the sirens are turned on when there is an official tornado or severe thunderstorm warning for any part of the county.
That causes many people to quit paying attention to the sirens because the warnings are so often not for the city area specifically.
I remember spending nights in a storm cellar as a child when no local radar was available and the best news we could get was by seeing what was happening in Memphis (until the power went off) or listening to an AM radio station relying on vague wire service reports. Technology has come a long way since then.
We can’t stop tornadoes today, but with a little expense, planning and vigilance, we can greatly increase our chances of getting through one.
J. Lynn West