There were no reports of storm damage in the Washington Fire Department’s service area Thursday night, according to Washington Fire Chief Bill Halmich.
“The main thrust of the storm did not hit us,” Halmich said.
There were, however, two unconfirmed reports of cloud rotation.
The first was at Highways 100 and 185. The fire department’s spotter could not confirm that report.
The second was at Washington Crossing and Highway 100. Law enforcement nor personnel at fire headquarters could confirm that report.
Halmich outlined the city’s process for storm preparation.
The evolution starts with a conference call with the weather bureau, Halmich said. Those calls took place April 2 and 3.
The first call is to give preliminary information on what the bureau thinks is likely to happen. The second call either confirms the previous information or announces a change to what is likely to happen.
“Both calls indicated that we had a high potential for severe weather in our area,” Halmich said.
Once department personnel have the information, it is sent to city department heads and administration, with graphics and links to the weather bureau information.
The day of the event, Halmich said, the department monitors weather all day, from listening to fire stations on HAM radio stations to monitoring the weather bureau statistics.
Thursday’s storm started with a watch at about 5 p.m., which means conditions are conducive to severe weather.
At 6:28 p.m. the first warning, a severe thunderstorm warning, was given and all fire stations were manned.
“There was a super cell-type storm headed our way,” Halmich said, adding that there were reports of hail south and west of the city, but none within the city limits.
At 7:14 p.m., the weather bureau issued a tornado warning for the area. Shortly after, at 7:28 p.m., the severe thunderstorm warning was extended.
Within minutes, Halmich said he was contacted by the Washington regional fire coordinator, who said he had heard reports of a tornado in Washington. After that, a Missouri State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) representative contacted Halmich with the same information, however, there were no reports for assistance in the area.
“The good news is that the region and SEMA representatives were contacting us shortly after they heard the information,” Halmich said. “In a real event, the lines of communication would be short. We’ve established the lines of communication.
Halmich stressed the importance of planning for severe weather.
SEMA has a website, ready.gov, that can assist citizens in planning for all types of emergencies.
“It seems we’re experiencing more violent storms and more frequently than we have in the past,” Halmich said. “The need for planning is definitely there.”
Halmich said that, like with any emergency-type situation, “rumors abound.”
“Rumors have been a part of every disaster,” Halmich said.
Some St. Louis media reported tornadoes in the Washington area, despite that there wasn’t confirmation.
“There are more tools available (via social media) and it’s complex on how to use them,” he said.
Once the city’s new fiber connection is finished, Halmich said he plans to have an emergency management portal on the city’s webpage.
In the next month, he will attend a SEMA course “Social Media and Disasters.”
Halmich said that during the flood of 1993, there was a rumor hotline, where people could call to see if bridges or roads were closed or dispel other rumors they heard regarding the flood.
The portal is the same principle. It will be a place where the department can get the right information to the citizens right away.