Traverse City Record-Eagle

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July 11, 2013

Another View: Being alert about tornadoes

No matter how sophisticated civilization becomes, humans and the communities they build are susceptible to the ravages of weather disasters.

The past decade has proven that, with everything from deadly hurricanes to wildfires and the killer tornadoes in Joplin, Mo. and Moore, Okla. Better technology may make a difference in responses to tornadoes — as long as we use it to become alert without becoming alarmist.

Michigan cannot rival Missouri and Oklahoma for frequency or ferocity of tornadoes. Still, data kept since the 1880s indicate more than 340 people have died in tornadoes in this state.

Indeed, the Flint tornado of June 8, 1953, killed 115 and injured another 844. It remains on many lists of the nation’s deadliest tornadoes. Until the 2011 Joplin tornado killed some 160, the Flint twister was the last U.S. tornado to claim more than 100 lives.

In 1965, a tornado traveled through Branch, Hillsdale and Lenawee counties, killing 44 and injuring more than 600. And a 1980 tornado that slammed through downtown Kalamazoo killed five and injured 79.

Still, too often our tendency is to think the tornado won’t come near enough to injure and therefore not seek shelter until the last possible moment. Such hesitation before seeking shelter may be fed in part by the warning process in counties like Ingham, where alarms are sounded countywide no matter where a funnel cloud is sighted.

On May 28 this year a funnel sighted near Stockbridge in southern Ingham County caused sirens to sound 25 miles away in Lansing, where the skies were sunny.

While it’s better to be safe than sorry, sounding sirens so far from the actual danger breeds inattentiveness that can be as deadly as no warning. Ingham County’s plan to update its warning system, then, is most welcome. Plans call for adding additional sirens and for adding the ability to selectively alert sections of the county based on where a tornado has actually been seen. Both are improvements that will help increase the perceived accuracy of warnings.

Citizens also must educate themselves on tornado safety at home, work, schools and even when caught on the road. Technology can make us safer, but over confidence can erase that advantage in an instant.

Lansing State Journal

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