The Shelby County Emergency Management Agency, Thursday afternoon issued a statement in response to questions the public may have had with regard to Wednesday night’s storms. Operations Officer Jason Wickizer said “Staff were monitoring weather prior to Tornado Watch being issued. As soon as the Tornado Watch was issued at 6:20-p.m., the Emergency Management Coordinator and Operations Officer were out meeting the storm as it rapidly built just Northwest of Harlan.”
Storm photo from the Shelby County EMA Facebook page
He went on to say “Area Fire Departments were advised by pager of the Tornado Watch by 6:23-p.m. Sheriff’s Deputies were also assisting with monitoring the same Storm Cell. Due to the rapid growth Harlan Police Department assisted local residents by opening shelters, and monitoring the weather. At 6:28-p.m., a Severe Thunderstorm Warning was received.”
Wickizer said also “Spotters from all area Fire Departments were also placed in the field at pre-determined locations to observe the storm as it tracked through the county this was completed by 6:34-p.m. Once observations of the storm cell were made National Weather Service personnel were in touch with Shelby County EMA/911 Dispatchers relaying real time radar interpretations of what they were seeing on radar.”
He added that the “National Weather Service confirmed what field observers were seeing and that was ‘wide area rotation.’ As the Storm Cell continued South – South East it developed a prominent lowering or “Wall Cloud” that was rotating. This was reported to Shelby County EMA/911 Dispatchers at 6:50-p.m. by EMA Operations Officer, with the EMA Coordinator calling for the Sirens to be activated in Harlan.
As the storm continued to track SSE a Deputy reported a brief touchdown of a tornado on Redbud Road at 7:02-p.m. Due to funnel development and history of [the] storm, [the] EMA Coordinator had Shelby County EMA/911 Dispatchers activate the Sirens in Elk Horn. By 7:49-p.m., the storm exited the county [and] personnel returned to normal duties.”
Wickizer said “The Storm Cell in question had more than 4 trained Public Safety Spotters following it across the county keeping it in visual contact at all times. Public Safety Spotters, and Fire Departments were monitoring and relaying information through communications to keep the public warned as early as possible.”
In response to questions from some residents who said they could not hear the sirens in their homes, Wickizer said “Sirens are an outdoor warning signal, not designed to be heard in your home. Inside warnings should come in the form of a NOAA weather radio, Code Red Emergency Communications Network (cell/telephone warning), Radio, and Television Media.” Another question people have asked is “Why did this storm surprise us, it seems to have developed quickly?”
Wickizer said “The Tornado Watch actually means when weather conditions are favorable for the rapid development of severe thunderstorms that are capable of producing tornadoes. A tornado watch therefore implies that it is also a severe thunderstorm watch. A tornado watch must not be confused with a tornado warning. In most cases, the potential exists for large hail and/or damaging winds in addition to tornadoes. A watch does not mean that the severe weather is actually occurring, only that atmospheric conditions have created a significant risk for it.”
“As we are all aware the weather rapidly changed once the watch developed. We encourage all citizens of Shelby County to sign up for Code Red, and remember that coming soon we will be switching from Code Red to the “Alert Iowa” system which is a statewide notification system.”
Wicker mentioned that they will be advertising when signups for “Alert Iowa” are ready to begin, but until that time Code Red, will remain in the Shelby County Emergency Communications Network.
He also mentioned how severe weather has become a “large industry” for “Spotters”, “Chasers”, “Tour Guides” and “Researchers.” Wickizer said they “Are seeing an abundance of people on the roadways during storms that are parking in the roadway, and placing weather monitoring devices in the travel portions of the roadway. We ask the public to be aware of this during storms.”
As an example, he said Wednesday night, while spotting along county road F-58, an Emergency Management employee had to drive around a spotter that parked his car in the middle of the roadway with no lights on filming the storm cell as it crossed the road. An adjacent County Emergency Manager came upon another spotter that deployed an instrument in the travel portion of a roadway.
Wickizer said “Several of these individuals will drive fast, and are not watching the road so please remain cautious if you happen to be driving during a storm.” And, as a final note, he said “Storm spotters in Shelby County are Public Safety Officials – if you are approached by someone claiming to be a “Storm Spotter” they should be in an Official Vehicle, or have Department Identification. If you are approached by someone that does not meet these criteria they are more likely than not a non-affiliated recreational spotter.”
Several videos and additional bits of information about the storm that hit Shelby County are available on the EMA’s Facebook page. (www.facebook.com/pages/Shelby-County-Emergency-Management/118172524867212?fref=ts)