Craighead County OEM: People don't heed weather warnings

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Officials with the Craighead County Office of Emergency Management told Region 8 News Tuesday that many people don't listen to advanced weather warnings and watches. In response to a report by the National Weather Service, officials said many people don't listen to warnings for a number of reasons.

"When that warning comes out, it comes out for a multitude of reasons. The conditions are right. Doppler Radar is indicating it. There may have been a spotter confirmation that there's a funnel or tornado on the ground. When those warnings come out, people really need to listen to them. They need to take them to heart for what they are. They need to realize it is a life-threatening situation," said Charles Jones, Deputy Director of the Craighead County Office of Emergency Management.

Jones said many people don't heed the warnings because they want to catch a tornado on camera. He said they don't think about their own safety in the process.

"We're very much in this video community where everybody has got their video phones and everything else and they want to get that picture worth 1,000 words," said Jones. "They're really bad, honestly, about staying out, trying to get lightning and cloud formations or tornados."

In a report released by the National Weather Service into the tornado outbreak on February 5, 2008, people in fatal tornado events were given 17 minutes warning prior to arrival. People hear about so many warnings on radio and TV, they sometimes ignore them.

"It's important to give people warning ahead of time and we always strive to do that as accurately as we can. We also want to make sure though that we do it in such a way that we're not giving them a false warning," said Jones. "The more times you give someone a false warning, the more times you get a false warning out, the more people get lackadaisical in how they respond to it."

The best piece of advice for people worried about where to go in severe weather situations is to develop a plan ahead of time.

"Get to your safe spot. Don't worry about turning off the gas, opening the doors or windows. You just need to get to that storm safe spot," said Region 8 News Meteorologist Sarah Tipton.

"A lot of people don't necessarily take severe thunderstorms as seriously as they should for that simple reason as it's just a severe thunderstorm. Nothing is going to happen. It's not as bad as a storm that can produce a tornado. That's not necessarily true," said Tipton. "Severe thunderstorms are also quite dangerous. They put down some very strong winds upwards of 70-80 miles per house at times. It doesn't take a lot to knock a tree down. Tree limbs can come crashing into your home."

When developing a plan, Tipton said find a location inside your home away from outside doors and windows. Also look for a place with more walls between you and the exterior.

"In many Wood Ford Stormtracker visits that I do throughout the year, I like to tell the children that your home protects you much like the padding that you wear playing football, volleyball or the helmet on your head that you have to wear playing baseball. Those things act as padding. The walls of your home act as padding and you want to put more padding between you and the outside in order to protect your body while you're at home," said Tipton.

Region 8 News wanted to see if residents had a plan in place for potential severe weather. We asked Jones to join us in analyzing one family's severe weather plans.

"Make sure you know ahead of time before you're faced with that emergency. You know where to go. Everybody in the home knows where to go. That's very very important to have that preparation done ahead of time," said Jones.

George Herndon is an 86-year old blind man who lives in Jonesboro. He lives with his wife, grandson and his mother. He said he goes to the bathroom area when a tornado warning is issued.

"We retreat into this central hallway and bathroom in the house and there are no outside openings to the hallway or to that bathroom," said Herndon.

Jones said Herndon and his grandson, Andrew Reno, have a good plan in place. It's away from window openings and there are 3 walls between the bathroom and outside.

"We have most of the first aid in the bathroom already. The radio and the first aid is all we need," said Reno. "It is pretty scary in any circumstance when you have a tornado coming at your house or in your area, but knowing that we're doing the right thing and that we've practiced it. We know what to do. It is a confidence boost. The next time, it'll be easier."

Jones said the most important thing a person can do to help stay safe is to have a weather radio.

"The tornado sirens are actually designed for outdoor warning only. They're designed so if your outside your home and you hear those sirens, you know there's a problem. Inside your home though, a lot of times those sirens won't penetrate," said Jones.

"It's not so important anymore opening doors, opening windows, anything like that. The most important thing is to find the place in your home that has the most walls between you and the outside of your home," said Jones. "The smaller the room is, the more vertical the structure and strength there is in the walls and the safer it'll be to protect you in the event your home does collapse."

"We used to think with a home, especially when a tornado would destroy a home, was that the barometric pressure caused the house to literally explode or implode. What we found out since then is that actually isn't the case," said Jones.

"We're just concerned and we want to hear as many reports from the local stations as we can about what to expect," said Herndon. "It assures me that we're doing the best we can with the structure of this house that we're protecting ourselves the best way we can."

Below is information from a press release issued by the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.

Put together a disaster kit and store it in a portable container in case of evacuation. The kit should include:

  • At least a three-day supply of food and bottled water for each family member
  • A manual can opener
  • Battery-powered radio and flashlights with extra batteries
  • First aid kit with family members' medications
  • Hygiene and personal care items
  • Emergency contact list and phone numbers
  • Pet supplies
  • Copies of important papers including insurance policies and bank account information
  • Emergency cash or credit card in the case of an evacuation with little notice and a full tank of gas.