Thursday, March 3, 2011

COMMENTARY>>BE READY! Take cover when the siren sounds

It’s often said if you don’t’ like the weather here in Central Arkansas, just wait 30 minutes because it’s sure to change.

But when the base’s tornado sirens sound, there is no time to wait.

“When people hear the siren, they should immediately seek safe shelter,” said Col. Mike Minihan. “The tornado siren is primarily intended to alert individuals working outdoors of impending tornadoes. Our people’s safety is our number one priority.”

The base’s warning procedures are different that those communities outside the wire. On base, command post controllers broadcast issued tornado warnings when the suspected cells are within 30 minutes away using the base’s Giant Voice and network alert systems; however, the three-to-five minute steady tone will not sound until five minutes before the valid time of the tornado warning.

For example, the Giant Voice will broadcast “This is the command post with a tornado warning, valid from 1600 local to 1730 local.” This message will be repeated twice. Then at 1555 local, five minutes before the “valid” time, the command post begins sounding verbal warnings and activates the siren. The siren will sound steadily for three to five minutes, repeating every 10 minutes. Periodic voice announcements are broadcasted until the “All Clear” is given.

“The goal is to provide as much advance notice as possible to the threat of impending adverse weather,” said 1st Lt. James Melton, 19th Operations Support Squadron meteorologist. “We differ from the off-base communities because we have a much different mission. We must provide resource protection to our aircraft and personnel who work and live on Little Rock Air Force Base.”

Many people new to tornado alley get confused by the difference in tornado watches and tornado warnings. A tornado watch is issued for the ‘potential’ for tornado development. The ‘warning’ is issued when a tornado is imminent as indicated on weather radar or has been sighted on the ground.

So when the siren sounds, everyone should take cover, the base’s weatherman said. Preparing now is crucial to weathering the coming storm season.

“I urge everyone to have a designated safe room, usually an interior room free of windows, to take shelter in,” Lt. Melton said. “Also, have some supplies handy such as a cell phone, working flashlight, drinking water, blankets and a first-aid kit as further preparation should a tornado impact your location. Stay tuned to local media sources and messages disseminated on base for the current weather watch, warning and advisory status.”

Central Arkansans should get many opportunities to practice their tornado drills with climatologists predicting an active year for severe weather, Lt. Melton said. Arkansas experiences an average 26 tornadoes per year and 33 were recorded in 2010 with six fatalities and 33 injuries.

“Forecasting weather in central Arkansas is extremely challenging,” he said. “Tornadoes spawn with little advance warning and represent the most violent weather phenomena on earth.

Taking the tornado warning sirens seriously and following giant voice instructions will help keep everybody as safe as possible. Be ready!”

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