Despite being a few hundred miles away early Thursday morning, I was still in the loop of activity as the severe weather coming out of Oklahoma moved into Newton County and the City of Neosho. Ever since the tornado of 1975 (which was on my birthday), I've always been the family member who calls and wakes up others to make sure they know about the weather. The only difference this time was I was on the receiving end of the first call.
The call came in at 1:48 a.m. I was asleep. When I saw the name (I'll omit it for this story), I figured something was very wrong. I was met with a "Why aren't the sirens sounding? A tornado is on the way!" By this time, the Weather Channel (which I'd left on all night) was showing the warning area and Melanie was on the phone with family in Neosho. My response was "I don't know, but I'll find out."
The city manager confirmed via text he was up. I put a call in to him and discussed the phone call about the sirens. He hung up to make some calls and the next 30 minutes or so was a scurry of calls and texts to and from family and city officials to make sure all were safe and aware. (For the record, my dad slept through it and called me back at 7:30 – seeing that I'd called.)
My first assumption on the sirens was something wasn't working correctly. My uncle told me they had come back on again. The city manager confirmed that as well. I was concerned primarily because I feared some would assume no sirens meant "all clear" for the weather. I've since learned a few more things about how warning sirens work and found out they worked perfectly — as designed. Let me explain.
First off, Neosho's emergency department has a specific policy regarding how and when the sirens in Neosho sound. It says: Outdoor warning sirens are activated when:
• The National Weather Service issues a tornado warning for Newton County, Jasper County or McDonald County in Missouri, Ottawa County in Oklahoma or Cherokee County in Kansas that is said to be moving directionally towards Neosho "or"
• A tornado is spotted by a trained weather spotter or emergency service personnel "or"
• When directed by the Emergency Management Director "or"
• The storm system approaching Neosho is producing sustained wind speeds of 75 mph or greater as indicated by the National Weather Service.
Knowing at least one of these conditions was met, my question was then — why did they stop? I had only to read the next paragraph of the policy to get the answer. "When storm sirens are activated due to storm alerts, the siren consists of a steady tone for duration of three (3) minutes. A second siren activation will occur if the initial warning had been sounded more than 10 minutes prior to the warned storm system arrival to the city. The second activation will be another three-minute sounding."
Page 2 of 2 - After further reading online, I soon discovered that the three-minute sounding time is practically a national standard. Furthermore, I found that most storm sirens ARE NOT designed for continuous sounding and doing so would likely cause damage to them. It was obvious I'd simply never paid attention in the past to how long and how many times the sirens sounded.
The last key thing I learned from the policy is probably the most important — "The City reminds residents that there is NO 'ALL CLEAR' sounded by the sirens."
With more convective weather certain to come over the next few weeks and months, I hope this has given you a better understanding of the when's and why's of our local warning sirens. If you don't have a weather radio, I'd highly recommend you get one. They are always "listening" for warnings and alerts. Also, websites like "weather.com" offer customized options to receiving text warnings on your phone based on the zip codes you provide them. Being prepared and informed is a big part of staying safe — please do your part. Your city will continue to do its part too!
Your council has given me another year to serve you as mayor. I'm honored and humbled to continue to serve my hometown. As always, your council and your city officials are here for you. Don't hesitate to contact any of us if you need any assistance.
Until next time: keep the faith, stay the course, and may God bless Neosho!
Richard Davidson is mayor of Neosho.