Even though the first day of Spring is still a few days away according to the calendar, severe weather has already claimed lives in the Midwest. Tornadoes have caused loss of life and considerable property damage in Missouri, Ohio and Kentucky in the past weeks, and private forecasting firms say there may be a good reason for Mother Nature's early activities.
The thoughts of severe weather were brought close to home in recent days when a malfunction of the control system for one of the severe weather warning sirens in Emmetsburg caused the siren to sound one night in late February. The siren sounded for several minutes until police manually shut it down.
Officials of the Palo Alto County Communications Center acknowledged the malfunction only affect the single siren, but dispatch officers were unable to shut the siren down by normal means from the communications center, which required a police officer to physically go to the siren location and cut the power to the device.
Since that incident, the faulty control has been repaired.
But with the early-season severe weather in the Midwest, perhaps it isn't too early at all to start thinking about severe weather locally.
The National Weather Service will once again observe Severe Weather Awareness Week in Iowa during the week of April 2-6. Various aspects of severe weather, including severe thunderstorms, flash flooding and tornadoes, will all be highlighted during the week's observance with educational briefings and activities, including the statewide Tornado drill on Wednesday, April 4.
In Palo Alto County, each community, with the exception of Curlew, has an emergency outdoor warning siren that can be sounded to alert the public to seek shelter due to an approaching tornado. With the exception of sirens in Ruthven and West Bend, operators at the Palo Alto County Communications Center can activate the remaining sirens individually or all together by radio. To sound the sirens in Ruthven and West Bend, the fire departments in those communities are paged, and must manually sound the sirens in their communities.
Currently, storm-warning sirens are located on the north shore of Lost Island Lake, Ruthven, Ayrshire, Mallard, West Bend, Rodman, Cylinder, Graettinger and Emmetsburg.
The policy for the siren activation requires an authorized individual, starting with the county's Emergency Management Director, to order the activation of the sirens. Law enforcement officers, as well as officers of the various fire departments in the county, or certified, trained weather spotters may also request activation of the sirens. Additionally, sirens will be activated whenever the National Weather Service in Des Moines requests activation.
Once the order to activate is given, the operator on duty at the Communications center will send a radio signal to one or all of the sirens. The sirens will sound continuously for three to five minutes before automatically shutting down. But, as long as a warning remains in effect for the area or the county, dispatchers will re-activate the sirens every 15 minutes until the warning is canceled or allowed to expire.
Authorities are quick to point out that the sirens are intended as an outdoor warning device, and very well may not be able to be heard in a business or home. Television and radio continued to be preferred methods of receiving weather warnings, along with weather radios specifically designed to receive broadcasts from the National Weather Service.
In Palo Alto County, beginning the first Monday of April, outdoor warning sirens will be tested at noon every Monday through the end of September. In the event that a weather watch or warning should be in effect on that day at the noon hour, no test will be conducted.
For those members of the public who are interested in becoming a trained weather spotter, a training class will be offered at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville on Wednesday, April 4 at 7 p.m..The storm spotter training will be conducted by officials of the National Weather Service in Des Moines. For more information on the class, go to
With the abnormal Winter coming to a close, our area was not buried under copious amounts of snow as in the past couple of years, and temperatures were more moderate than in past years as well. Private forecasters have taken note of the mild Winter, and are expecting an above-normal number of tornadoes for this season, due to water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico running above normal for this time of year. The active severe weather season follows a deadly year with a near-record number of tornadoes in 2011. Typically, 1,300 tornadoes strike the U.S. a year. There were nearly 1,700 tornadoes in 2011, falling short of the record 1,817 tornadoes set in 2004.