Opinion

To be or not to be… Storm ready

Well, in the case of the Branson, Missouri, deadly duck boat sinking back on the 19th of July, it was most assuredly “not to be”, as in, not to be Storm Ready. The complex of thunderstorms which killed those poor people formed in Kansas that morning and moved steadily southeastward for nearly 500 miles before it got to the lake where the duck boat was. A Severe Thunderstorm Watch (which means conditions are favorable for severe thunderstorms) had been issued before noon.

Seventeen people were killed in that tragedy, and it never, ever should have happened. They had eons of lead time. But, no one was paying attention.

It would have taken just one person monitoring the weather to make one phone call (not a text) to the company operating the boats to let them know the day was a definite “no-go” for the water. Again, this complex of storms was detected many hours before the sinking of the boat. In fact, anyone with a phone just watching the radar and lightning would have seen this cluster of storms moving steadily toward the Branson area hours ahead of time. But who’s thinking of looking at weather on a phone when you are on vacation and about to be taken out on a lake? No one. You assume the boat company is on that.

There is actually a formal way for an organization or community to be certified as being prepared for dangerous weather. It’s done through a program administered by the National Weather Service and it’s called “Storm Ready”. Storm Ready training ensures that you have a plan of action in place if dangerous weather approaches. Storm Ready coordinators must quickly disseminate critical weather information to the people for whom they are responsible to keep them out of harm’s way.

Incidentally, any outdoor business that takes people on excursions, whether they have the Storm Ready designation or not, should always have a plan to make sure that the weather is being tracked carefully, so that none of its customers are placed in danger. It’s just common sense.

If you’re are interested in the NWS Storm Ready program, you can contact the National Weather Service in Caribou and ask for the Warning Coordination Meteorologist Donald Dumond. Let him know that your organization is interested in applying to be Storm Ready. The main number for their office is 207-492-0180.

Here’s the URL from the NWS site on how to become Storm Ready:   https://www.weather.gov/stormready/become

To become Storm Ready, in addition to the training, you must have:

  1. A 24-hour warning point and emergency operations center.
  2. More than one way to receive severe weather warnings and forecasts, and to alert those you need to alert (such as a student body).
  3. A system that monitors weather conditions locally.
  4. Community seminars to promote the importance of public awareness and readiness.
  5. A formal hazardous weather plan, which includes training severe weather spotters and holding emergency exercises.

In Aroostook County, the following four entities have been certified as Storm Ready by the National Weather Service:

Aroostook County EMA

City of Caribou

University of Maine at Presque Isle

University of Maine at Fort Kent

I’m one of the people who conducts the formal training that is part of the Storm Ready program, and I conducted the most recent recertification training at UMPI.

I have also been working on a sort of “Storm Ready for Kids”. It’s an initiative to get County elementary schools to integrate sky awareness into their weather units, so that kids can become more weather-savvy.

If you would like your school-aged children to be more sky-aware, I’d be delighted to discuss it with you. Feel free to call me at WAGM. My number is 207-764-4461 extension #261 (you must hit the # symbol before the 261).

So to wrap it up, any time your group or organization is having an outing, especially if it is out on the water where taking cover can take a while, make sure there is someone who is monitoring the weather who is trained to know what they are looking at. And make sure that person can immediately communicate to the exposed group to take cover at once, if need be.

There is no earthly reason those 17 people died at Branson.

Let’s make darned sure we don’t have one of these needless tragedies here in The County.

Ted Shapiro holds the Broadcast Seal of Approval from both the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association. An Alexandria, Va. native, he has been chief meteorologist at WAGM-TV since 2006. Email him at tshapiro@wagmtv.com.

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