Tornado sirens aren't designed to awaken residents and aren't fail-proof, as Woodward, Okla. learned. What tornado warnings were effective this past weekend.
When a tornado shrouded in darkness and wrapped in rain dropped quickly from the sky above this northwest Oklahoma town, many residents relied on television weathermen to warn them of impending devastation. Others learned of the monster twister from neighbors or calls from frantic relatives.
One backup they couldn't count on was the town's 20 outdoor tornado sirens, which were knocked out when lightning struck a tower used to activate the warning system.
The storms, which caused multiple outbreaks of severe weather most of Sunday from Kansas to Minnesota, were part of an exceptionally strong system tracked by the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., which specializes in tornado forecasting. The center took the unusual step of warning people more than 24 hours in advance of a possible "high-end, life-threatening event."
In the end, only the Woodward tornado proved fatal. While it's unknown whether the disabled sirens contributed to the toll in Woodward, residents and officials in hard-hit areas of Kansas, Iowa and elsewhere credited days of urgent warnings from forecasters for saving lives.
"We can't do this with every event," said the prediction center's Ken Miller, noting that many storm systems are not as easy to predict whether they will be a potential threat to life and property.
Miller said he was pleased the warnings were heeded.
"We measure our success by how the public reacts," he said. "Do they take precautions seriously and act on them?"