County official says tornado warning means find a safe place and not run outside and take pictures
WILLMAR -- Based on the number of tornado photographs and videos taken by citizens and turned over to local and state media outlets, it would seem that no one in Willmar responded to the storm sirens by going to the safety of their basement or ro...
WILLMAR -- Based on the number of tornado photographs and videos taken by citizens and turned over to local and state media outlets, it would seem that no one in Willmar responded to the storm sirens by going to the safety of their basement or root cellar.
The Tribune received many photos of the funnel cloud taken by people who were at Willmar businesses or at home when the storm hit. Some photos even show people watching the developing tornado.
"We keep giving the same message: When the sirens go off, seek shelter immediately," says Don Ericson, Kandiyohi County emergency management director. "We can't preach that enough."
The message that comes over the radio and television, in both English and Spanish on local radio, gives the proper instruction: Go to the lowest level of the home, into a room with no windows ... and it continues with instructions for mobile home dwellers, people riding in cars or who are out in the open. And stay in your safe place until the storm sirens stop going, Ericson says. Emergency personnel activate the siren each time there's a new tornado report, even if the reports are on the same funnel. There's no way for emergency personnel to determine if the reports are duplicates.
Having either a NOAA weather radio from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or tuning into local radio or television is also key. When the National Weather Service weather warning for your area expires, then it should be safe to come out, Ericson said.
In a significant weather event, law enforcement officers have much more responsibility than warning people to seek shelter from the weather, says Jim Kulset, Willmar police chief. While citizens should be going away from the situation, officers, just like any other emergency responders, head into the fray to help those folks affected, and, if needed, conduct search and rescue work.
Several factors may have contributed to the citizen reaction to Friday night's storm.
First, the tornado was visible for a great distance without the obstruction of rain or hail, plus it hit about 6:30 p.m., when great numbers of people were out and about, shopping or eating at restaurants.
Plus, most Midwesterners have fascination with the weather, Ericson concedes.
"Weather is very interesting and amazing, there's almost an overwhelming urge to watch it."