2018-08-08 / Front Page

Funnel Cloud Sighting Sets Off Tornado Sirens

Tornado warning sirens across Fulton County wailed about 10:24 pm, Monday night, Aug. 6, after a Fulton County sheriff deputy spotted a funnel cloud in the vicinity of Co. Rds. 5 and K on the east end of the county.

The event led to many questions about the siren system.

The Incident

Rich Kilgour, Fulton County sheriff department 911 coordinator, said visibility was very low during storms Monday night, but the deputy could see the funnel in the flashes of lightning.

At that point, it was almost touching down.

He said rather than wait for the funnel to actually touch ground and become a tornado, dispatchers on duty chose to start the sirens.

The sirens are set off by a set of electronic tones broadcast over the old Fulton County fire frequency. One set of tones sets off all sirens in the county.

Sirens in Archbold will blow when there is a weather problem anywhere in the county.

After broadcasting the tones, the dispatcher then made a voice broadcast, informing police departments, fire departments, emergency medical service crews, and other listening stations of the situation.

Kilgour said the National Weather Service office in North Webster, Ind., wasn’t indicating any problems on its radar system.

Two FCSD deputies checked the area, and other than a few tree limbs and branches knocked down, didn’t see any damage.

Kilgour said by the time county officials figured out what was going on, the storm system had moved out of the county.

Dispatchers did not send out an alert by text message, nor was a warning or explanation put on the county website.

Later, FCSD posted a message on its Facebook page explaining why the sirens went off and reporting no damage was found.

Kilgour said as soon as the dispatchers set off the sirens, they receive a flood of calls from people asking why they are sounding.

He said county policy says, “When in doubt, set them (the sirens) off.”

The dispatchers had to make a split-second decision, and chose to error on the side of caution.

No “All Clear”

When there is a tornado or confirmed funnel cloud sighting, the sirens sound with a three-minute blast.

In the past, a one-minute blast as an all-clear signal was done, but not any more.

Kilgour said people confused the one-minute all clear siren with the three-minute warning and believed a second tornado was coming.

Also in the past, tornado sirens could be sounded individually by transmitting different tones over police radios.

If dispatchers had to warn the entire county, it would take up to a minute for the tones of each individual siren to play before the dispatcher could make the voice announcement.

Kilgour said when the sirens sound, people should take cover, then check local media outlets, county and local news media websites, or social media to find out what set off the alarm.

Henry County

In Ridgeville Township, the fire department sounds the tornado warning siren.

Dan Benecke, RFD chief, said when a funnel cloud or tornado is sighted or the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning, Henry County sheriff dispatchers page fire departments.

The average response time, from initial page to arrival at the station, is 2 1/2 to three minutes, Benecke said.

If there is confirmation of a funnel cloud or tornado, firefighters will start the siren for a three-minute blast– the tornado warning signal.

The next step is to send firefighters, who are trained weather spotters, to predetermined positions to watch for dangerous weather events. They will also contact Tracy Busch, the county Emergency Management Agency director.

If they feel it’s necessary, they will sound the siren again “for people who didn’t hear it the first time and to let people know we’re serious,” Benecke said.

RFD does not sound an all-clear signal.

When the siren sounds, people should get to safety, then check for information.

Henry County sheriff dispatchers, in conjunction with Busch, send out text messages to those who have signed up for the service. They can also send reverse- 911 calls, in which phones in a targeted area receive a call with a pre-recorded message.

Benecke said the weather warning process starts hours before an event as staff at the county Emergency Operations Center and others begin monitoring weather conditions.

“I take off my hat to the guys at the EOC and the EMA director,” Benecke said.

A Funnel Cloud is a rotating column of air not in contact with the ground. If it touches the ground, it becomes a Tornado. A tornado siren will wail for three minutes. Fulton and Henry counties do not give an all-clear signal afterwards. Tornadoes are rated by their intensity using the Enhanced Fujita scale. An EF0 tornado has wind speeds estimated between 65-85 miles per hour; EF1, 86-110 mph; EF2, 111- 135 mph; EF3, 136-165 mph; EF4, 166-200 mph; and EF5, 200 mph or more.– Information courtesy National Weather Service

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