The Monday topic for Severe Weather Awareness Week is Weather Alerts and Warnings. In the past 10 years, more than 55 people have died, and dozens more were injured as a result of weather-related events in Minnesota, not including motor vehicles.
The National Weather Service issues severe weather alerts. There are three types of alerts – advisories or special weather statements, watches and warnings – explains Crookston Firefighter Shane Heldstab. “There is advisory which is essentially making people aware that conditions are starting to look favorable for heat or thunderstorms or whatever the advisory may be,” said Heldstab. “When they start to upgrade that they will upgrade to a watch trying to get the public prepared that conditions are more favorable and there is increased potential of that event happening. When we get into warnings, sometimes that event is already taking place, or there isn’t that much time to get prepared. When we do have watches we talk about being prepared, warnings are more along the line of taking action and carrying out the plan that you have.”
Additionally, an advisory is considered a situation that could threaten life or property, watches are favorable to those conditions, and alternate plans should be made. During a warning, a dangerous weather event is occurring or imminent, posing a likely significant threat to life and property.
Warning sirens are operated independently by each county. Additionally, the Crookston Fire Department can activate the sirens within the City of Crookston, said Heldstab, who also reminds residents that the sirens are meant to alert people outdoors and might be harder to hear if you are inside. “Sirens are outdoor warnings, don’t expect to hear those as well indoors,” said Heldstab. “When we do activate those sirens, there is a reason for it. We’re asking people to seek shelter, and we get information out to the media right away. There is no such thing as an ‘all-clear’ siren.”
Personal weather alerts can be set up through many apps on cell phones, tablets, and other devices. Many apps used on a device with GPS, such as a cell phone, will provide personal weather alerts for where that device is located at the time of the alert. “If you have weather apps on your phone, you can sign up or click boxes on those apps, so they will send your alerts,” said Heldstab. “If you are in an area where a watch or a warning pops up, you will get that notification on your phone. We’re asking that as connected as people are that you make sure that is something you have on as we come into spring with possible high weather, thunderstorms, excessive heat, all those kinds of advisories, watches, and warnings.”
Another form of alerts is wireless emergency alerts sent by local authorities to all registered phones to warn of a dangerous situation or critical information. Heldstab encourages all residents to register for the new Polk County alert system, Everbridge. “You can go on Polk County’s Website, and we’ve gone from a system called Code Red to an application called Everbridge,” said Heldstab. “You can sign up for that, which will do the same thing the old system did. With this, Polk County can send out weather alerts and other information. It’s another way to stay in touched and keep informed about the weather. Make sure to go check on that website and sign up if you haven’t already.”
Minnesota’s statewide tornado drill will take place on Thursday. Outdoor warning sirens and NOAA Weather Radios across the state will be sounded at 1:45 p.m. and 6:45 p.m.
Heldstab also wanted to take time to thank the community for helping keep fire hydrants clear throughout the winter months. “I do want to thank everybody that did sign up to adopt-a-hydrant this winter,” said Heldstab. “I know we didn’t have too much snow, but the snow we did get ended up being heavy and wet, and once it came in, there was a lot of it. It was nice to see that those got cleared out, so just a thank you to those that signed up. And to everybody even who didn’t sign up, but they did their part, it was greatly appreciated to see.”