storm 2

A storm that rolled through Washington last month triggered tornado warnings initially in just half of the city, prompting questions for some residents.

Emergency Management Director Mark Skornia said during the June 26 storm the polygon warning system implemented by the National Weather Service (NWS) targeted specific addresses so not everyone was warned when the storm hit the area.

“It split Washington into two pieces, and actually there was one piece of Washington not in a warning,” Skornia told Washington City Council members during Monday’s administration/operations committee meeting. “A few people didn’t get any warning based on their address.”

Warnings from the NWS prompts CodeRED notifications to inform residents of severe weather through a phone call. The NWS now issues a warning for a polygon-shaped area of those who could be directly impacted by a storm.

In the past, the NWS issued a broader warning to a larger area.

Skornia explained that it has been a number of years since there has been a tornado warning in Washington, and since that time the NWS changed the perimeters of who is notified.

“The National Weather Service wants to get it closer — they don’t want to be crying wolf,” he said. “They do a much tighter area. It is normally a good system, it was just weird how it split Washington.”

Skornia noted that there were no major issues due to how residents were notified through CodeRED.

“It appeared most people knew exactly what was going on,” he added. “It has been a number of years that we have actually had a tornado warning which is just grounds for unfamiliarity.”

CodeRED Sign Up

To enroll in CodeRED, or add or change notifications, people may go to the city’s website — www.ci.washington.mo.us — click on the CodeRED icon at the bottom of the page and enter information in the required fields.

Residents also may call the public safety nonemergency number at 636-390-1050 to see if they are signed up or for assistance.

Skornia noted that anyone within the Washington Fire Protection District may sign up for the notification system.

He added that people may sign up for CodeRED using business locations to notify them when they are at work. 

Siren Questions

The same June 26 storm elicited a question about storm sirens to the city’s website under the Mayor’s Action Center section.

The question was, “What do the different siren sounds mean?” Skornia stated.

That led the emergency management department to post siren information on the city’s website under the CodeRED section, as well as the Facebook pages for the city and EMA department.

Power Point presentation images show sirens send out an alarm for severe thunderstorm warnings described as a “whoop tone” going from low to high for 30 seconds.

During a tornado warning there is a steady tone for three minutes.

A “civil defense warning,” an attack against the United States, is a three-minute wavering tone. The city sounds “Westminster chimes” Sundays at noon as a system check.

The city has eight storm sirens which only are intended as an outdoor warning, Skornia explained.

“They are not designed for indoor coverage,” he said. “That is why it is so important for people to sign up for CodeRED.”

Skornia added that sirens, along with CodeRED notifications, only are issued for warnings, not watches.

“If sirens are going off it means the threat is imminent,” he said

Siren Replacement 

According to Lisa Moffitt, communications director, plans call for the replacement of five sirens, which have been in use since before she began at the city 23 years ago. 

She explained that the new sirens will by omni-directional, replacing rotating sirens. 

“Those will actually increase the coverage area and sound 360 degrees rather than rotating,” Moffitt said.

Storm siren replacements are expected to be funded through the renewed capital improvement sales tax.