As the calendar flips to March and spring weather begins to peek out from behind Old Man Winter, the Jacksonville Morgan County Office of Emergency Management is keeping a closer eye on the sky.
Morgan County Emergency Services and Disaster Agency Director Phil McCarty says seeing severe weather in the area has become the trend year-round, but this is definitely a higher risk time of year for severe weather.
McCarty says there are some new tools first responders have at their disposal for warning the public faster about severe weather in the area.
“We have a Jacksonville Morgan County Emergency Management app for your smartphone. It’s free for you to download through your phone’s mobile store, and it will activate when we issue warnings.
There are a lot of different ways that we are getting information now which I feel is really important. As well as for when you travel. When you are out of your home area you’re probably at a higher risk than when you are in your home area because you’re used to the weather and what happens locally. But when you’re in Florida for example, how are you going to know when the weather is bad down there?”
McCarty says the National Weather Service has become much better at predicting severe weather further out in time which gives ESDA more time to make the public aware that severe weather could happen soon.
“We’re predicting weather which is still very unpredictable. So as for the severity, we look at a lot of things such as what the history of the storm has been doing. We have multiple means to communicate with the National Weather Service, and then if we are getting reports of tornadoes or rotation and those types of things in adjoining counties and areas such as that, or we get issued a tornado warning, we will activate the sirens for those communities who are under the warning.
Or if we have a severe thunderstorm emergency, they have a new warning mechanism for severe storms that are extreme, that have extreme damaging straight-line winds or extreme lighting and all the things, then we will activate the sirens for those as well.”
McCarty says it is a fine balance when it comes to when to blow the weather sirens in a given area. He says, on one hand, ESDA wants to avoid false alarms to avoid becoming like the boy who cried, wolf, but on the other hand, McCarty wants to make sure they fail on the side of public safety.
“We activate the sirens according to what the National Weather Service and the storm path is. There are a lot of times when the storm may go north of Jacksonville so we are not going to activate the sirens in Murrayville for that as an example. We just try to keep it right. It’s not a perfect science but we try to make it realistic, and understand that if the sirens go off, we mean business.”
McCarty says the Weather Spotter Training is still being conducted by the National Weather Service virtually, and they have had more success with the format than first expected.
He says the hope is that next year the National Weather Service will be able to offer a hybrid style of training with both virtual and in-person available.