Many Joplin, Missouri, residents either ignored or reacted slowly to the first warning sirens about a deadly tornado that killed 162 people on May 28. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said, “Several people waited for additional information such as actually seeing the tornado or a television or radio report about the urgency of the threat, which was the deadliest single tornado since modern recordkeeping began in 1950.The majority of surveyed Joplin residents did not immediately go to shelter upon hearing the initial warning.”
“There are lessons to be learned, including beefing up the wording in tornado warnings,” the report said. “After the intensity of the storm was clear, the resulting warnings weren’t worded strongly enough “to accurately portray that immediate action was necessary to save lives,” said Richard Wagenmaker, a National Weather Service meteorologist and leader of the storm assessment team.
Have we in New Mexico learned any lessons? Unfortunately, it appears that the situation could be much worse if a tornado hits Albuquerque or other New Mexico towns.
As background, although New Mexico is usually hit by mostly weak tornadoes, strong tornadoes are possible and occur about every ten years. According the National Weather Service, tornadoes have hit most New Mexico counties. The highest risk of tornadoes is in eastern New Mexico from April through July, but tornadoes are possible with any thunderstorm. New Mexico averages about 10 tornadoes per year. For example, on October 21, 2010, a tornado hit just north of Roswell, and there was a “tornado outbreak” on May 23, 2010 in Union County. The latest fatal tornado in New Mexico was on March 23, 2007 when two people died, one near Clovis and 33 were injured) and one in Quay County. Another fatality occurred west of Albuquerque in October 1974, and a rare winter tornado was reported southwest of Roswell in December 1997. This demonstrates that deadly tornadoes can occur anytime and nearly anywhere in New Mexico state, so it’s very important to know when one is about to hit.
We decided to visit the official City of Albuquerque Government Web site to find out how prepared we are for tornadoes, and how we will be informed that a destructive tornado is coming our way, so as not to repeat the terrible fate of so many Joplin, Missouri residents.
We first went to “Information about life in Albuquerque” under the “Living” tab and looked in the alphabetic directory of information for “violent weather,’ “tornadoes.” “tornado sirens” and “weather.” And found none of those terms listed.
Next, we went to the Search feature for the entire site. I searched for the same phrases and found nothing other than information about a regional food item called “tornadoes” when searching for that word; and for “tornado warnings” we got something even less helpful: “Your search – tornado warnings – did not match any documents.”
So we sent a letter to the city, and received the bad news that we do not have a tornado siren warning system from Brigitte Bellsong, an Emergency Operations Center Officer in Albuquerque’s Office of Emergency Management, whose web site has much information on what to do in the event of any emergency and how you can be prepared.. She wrote:
The City does not currently have a siren system to warn of a tornado or any other disaster that might be occurring or has occurred. We do encourage our citizens to monitor the media closely when weather conditions may indicate a tornado is possible. If there is a weather warning or watch they will be posted by ourselves, the weather bureau and or the media itself depending on the nature of the situation. We also encourage our citizens to procure a weather alert radio that you can tune easily into the local Weather Service frequency.
If we are under a tornado watch or warning we probably won’t post that on the City web site as there is relatively little time to do that; we’d place our focus on the weather alerting radios and the media.
To access the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warnings on the radio for all counties in New Mexico, click here and bookmark it.
Here are some of the stations:
Bernalillo County: Frequency 162.40; Call sign WXJ34
Chaves County: Frequency 162.45; Call sign WXJ38
Cibola County: Frequency 162.55; Call sign WWF99
Santa Fe County: Frequency 162.550; Call sign WXJ33
Sierra County: Frequency 162.425; Call sign WZ2516
NOAA has issued the following instructions on what to do as soon as you hear a tornado warning on one of these stations or on television or other media or when a tornado threatens:
IN HOMES OR SMALL BUILDINGS:
- Act quickly; seconds save lives.
- Go to the basement or to an interior room on the lowest floor, such as a closet or bathroom.
- Get under a sturdy table or workbench.
- Wrap yourself in overcoats or blankets to protect yourself from flying debris.
- Be sure to stay clear of any threat of flying glass.
IN MOBILE HOMES, AUTOMOBILES, OR RVs:
- ABANDON THEM IMMEDIATELY!!
- If you live in a mobile home, have a plan of safe action should the weather become threatening.
- If no shelter is available, lie flat in a ditch or depression in the ground; use your hands to cover your head.
IN SCHOOLS, HOSPITALS, FACTORIES, OR SHOPPING CENTERS:
- Go to interior rooms and halls on the lowest floor.
- Stay away from glass enclosed places or areas with wide-span roofs such as auditoriums and warehouses.
- Crouch down and cover your head.
IN HIGH-RISE BUILDINGS:
- Go to interior small rooms or halls.
- Stay away from exterior walls or glassy areas.
Stay well, and don‘t wait to hear any tornado warning sirens for now.