When the tornado sirens sounded last Wednesday afternoon, I calmly looked at one of my favorite weather websites and saw that the alert was just for the far southeastern tip of the county, far away from LaGrange proper.
After assuring some colleagues there was no need to start clearing out a hidey hole under our desks, I went back to work.
That’s a far cry from what my reaction would have been growing up, or even just 10 years ago. Growing up in Illinois wasn’t the famous “Tornado Alley” but it was close enough, and I always had a fear of severe weather, even into adulthood. It got so bad one time that (and I have no idea how they came up with this idea) Mom and Dad drew a tornado on a piece of paper and had me throw it into the fire one day, hoping my fear would disappear with the ashes.
So I was just surprised as anyone when I wound up moving to Hurricane Alley (North Carolina) at the age of 23. I waited out my first hurricane dispatched to the local hospital – the safest building in town – for what turned out to only be a minor storm. Then 1999 happened. It seemed like there was a storm every week. Most notably, Floyd blew through and flooded half the county where I lived.
Somewhere between category 3 and 4 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, I was now a weather expert.
So what happened? Certainly, we haven’t stopped having weather. I’ve thought about that a lot since Wednesday, when some of my co-workers got nervous and I was oddly calm. Certainly the technology has greatly improved, since I was but a child on the prairie so many years ago. All we had back then was three channels on the television and a barometer on the wall. Now there’s The Weather Channel and sophisticated radar that can pinpoint the storms street by street. There’s also being old enough to and living in one spot long enough get familiar with weather patterns and being able to check the Internet, which we can all carry around on our phones.
Still, some people still rely on the good old neighborhood tornado siren to know whether or not to get in their storm shelter/safe place/hidey hole bunker. It’s only supposed to be used as an outdoor warning system – people aren’t supposed to try listening for the siren in their closed up house with a loud storm overhead. But still. Why can’t that technology keep up with the times?
There were a lot of nervous people around here on Wednesday who didn’t have to be. There are tornado sirens that can be sounded only in the affected area. Why should someone’s grandmother in Abbotsford be worried when it’s really the people on Old Chipley Road who need to take cover? Why should employees in West Point take to the factory storm shelter when the danger already has passed them?
Officials have said here in the past that sirens that only go off in designated warned areas are cost prohibitive.
But what price is peace of mind?