Letters to the Editor

Crying ‘wolf’

April 28, 2009


To the editor:

Saturday evening I was awakened from a nap to the sound of tornado sirens. Having had a home that was hit by a tornado, to me, a siren means run as quickly as you can to the nearest shelter, grabbing only what you need and opening a few windows if possible.

Imagine my surprise when I reach my neighbor’s cellar and am listening to the weather radio and learn that a “possible” tornado was expected to reach Lawrence 20 minutes hence.

I realize many people have been frustrated by the warning system in the past during “microbursts” and other severe weather phenomena; however, I believe in this case, the early airing of the sirens can only be described as the boy crying “wolf.” Even I, one who has always “run” because of my past experiences, am less likely to take future sirens seriously, a thought I have heard shared by many. This is not what a warning system is designed to do. I urge the city and county to reconsider their siren airing policy.

Moore is from Lawrence


Richard Heckler 8 years, 12 months ago

Very good points.

KMBC Channel 9 weather was the most helpful. Why? Because they could tell exactly what was going on and pin point locations. Then again Channel Nine had a helicopter following the funnel action.

Sheila Hooper White 8 years, 12 months ago

I'm sorry but I don't see anything wrong with it. If you don't want to take cover don't. I like having the notice whether it is on my side of town or the other. I have relatives everywhere in Lawrence and the surrounding towns. I think what you need to do is read what a tornado warning means b/c I'm not sure you understand.

Why must people complain? If they don't sound it people get mad, if they sound it to much, people get mad. I have children and my 9 yr old is terrified of storms b/c of the microburst a few years ago. We didn't have enough time to get to our basement before it hit our neighborhood, why, b/c they didn't sound the sirens in time.

I just wish there was a happy medium but like the SLT, the T, etc. this will keep going, and going, and going!!

jafs 8 years, 12 months ago

The city changed their policy a little while back because we got hit by a tornado without any sirens going off - they used to wait until one was spotted before sounding them.

After a public outcry about that, they started sounding the sirens whenever there's a warning in Douglas County.

I'd rather be safe than sorry.

Chris Ogle 8 years, 12 months ago

Imagine my surprise when I reach my neighbor’s cellar

Bet the neighbor was thrilled to see her. Sounds like she would bitch about a free lunch.

jaywalker 8 years, 12 months ago

Damned if ya do, damned if ya don't. If the siren comes at the last minute then there are plenty (probably the same people) who would kvetch they weren't given enough time to react. This should all be solved shortly when the new Telekenesis Warning Center is up and running.

beawolf 8 years, 12 months ago


The siren is a warning of highly potential tornado activity as well as a sighting. There was a strong rotation in the clouds all around Lawrence and any of those could have produced a tornado.

lawthing 8 years, 12 months ago

I say wait till the first house blows away at least one person on a bike is hit by lightning and one car flips over

Then turn on the sirens!

That'll do it!

Betty Bartholomew 8 years, 12 months ago

Better safe than sorry, sure, but going by the texts I was sending back and forth with family members (my parents were headed back from the races at KS speedway), the sirens had been going off in Lawrence for about an hour and a half before a tornado finally touched down in Linwood. According to the local weather, all that had been seen at the time of the sirens in Lawrence was some minor rotation that might spawn a tornado - no funnel formations had been seen by spotters. One of the weather producers that was at Clinton lake at the time and who called in to find out what was going on couldn't even see the rotation.

It just seems like the county has gone from one extreme to the other. Being overly cautious like they were on Saturday night will lead people to think that there's no reason at the time they hear the sirens to seek shelter, and that's not good at all.

On a related note: I find I'm disappointed in the emergency alert system that is sent out over cable. The only times I've seen it come up are for Amber alerts and flash flood warnings. It didn't make a peep on Saturday when there were tornado warnings out, but it went off incessantly Sunday night with the flash flood warnings. I don't understand why they didn't activate it Saturday, as well, especially since there are those that insist the sirens weren't designed to be heard indoors. Not everybody watches the weather news, but at least on my cable package, every channel gets disrupted by the EAS.

webmocker 8 years, 12 months ago

"Even I, one who has always “run” because of my past experiences, am less likely to take future sirens seriously, a thought I have heard shared by many."

Fine. Don't take it seriously.

Some people appreciate more than one minute's notice that there is high potential for a tornado to form. This wasn't just some scary looking clouds on a muggy day. It was visible rotation in a wall cloud.

Some would say that if the EOC knows there is rotation in a storm, waiting for a tornado to touch down and kill a few people before sounding the warning would be highly irresponsible.

Finally, given that the exact storm that went over Lawrence spawned a tornado in Tonganoxie just a few minutes later, it is clear that the warning was justified.

Confrontation 8 years, 12 months ago

xbusguy (Anonymous) says…

Imagine my surprise when I reach my neighbor’s cellar ––––––––––– "Bet the neighbor was thrilled to see her. Sounds like she would bitch about a free lunch."

It's only the beginning of the day, but I'm betting that this post by xbusguy will be the best of the day.

sassypants 8 years, 12 months ago

webmocker (Anonymous) says… Finally, given that the exact storm that went over Lawrence spawned a tornado in Tonganoxie just a few minutes later, it is clear that the warning was justified.

I also was taking a nap at the time the sirens went off. I can't believe you are complaining Heather. I'm glad the sirens went off and woke me up. So I was awake and prepared to go to our basement. Otherwise, I wouldn't have even known there was a possible tornado coming. It wasn't raining yet, and didn't start raining until well after 6:15 pm.

kendall1 8 years, 12 months ago

And what would you being saying if the siren didn't go off and there was a torando.

beawolf 8 years, 12 months ago

"consumer1 (Anonymous) says… Welcome to Whiner Kansas, Home of the University of Kansas. Boy! It is no wonder there are so many scam artist out there. There are so many naive frightened little people living in “Whiner Kansas”."....

Consumet1, Hitting the booze a little early today?

feeble 8 years, 12 months ago


God forbid we wake you from your precious naptime again with our tornado sirens and concerns over public safety. Perhaps after you've had your milk and cookies, you can opine on the emerging swine flu pandemic?

meggers 8 years, 12 months ago

The city doesn't issue tornado warnings, folks, they just communicate the warning to the public. If the National Weather Service has issued a tornado warning, I would think that the city is obligated to sound the warning sirens.

Heather's beef should be with the National Weather Service, not the city.

Danielle Brunin 8 years, 12 months ago

There was extremely strong rotation with that storm and had it dropped a tornado, it could potentially have been very violent. Back in the day, tornado sirens did mean run as fast as you can to the nearest shelter. Fortunately now, we have this little thing called "technology" that allows us to detect severe weather well before it strikes. Early warning is a blessing, not a burden. For example, thanks to these systems, people in Greensburg, KS had approximately 20 minutes of warning before that EF-5 tornado hit. I bet that if you ask them, they won't complain about being woken from sleep. We were very fortunate this time that you have something to complain about.

Sheila Hooper White 8 years, 12 months ago

Very well said, rodentgirl. I don't think she should have a beef with anyone. She needs to do what I suggested earlier and look up what a tornado warning is. Then maybe she should understand. I have lived here in Lawrence all my life and remember the tornado that hit kmart, very scary. I'm very thankful we have the time to take cover.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 12 months ago

i am very disappointed at the vitriol aimed at this woman for simply giving her opinion. Is there really a need for this? She is not whining. Heather, please do not think badly of us because of a few. I agree with you. The sirens went on and off forever and nothing happened. I fell asleep during a sci-fi movie and for a couple of minutes I thought it was part of the movie.

TheYetiSpeaks 8 years, 12 months ago

Let me get this straight, Heather. You are upset because you had more time to prepare for a storm producing funnels. (rolls eyes)

JohnBrown 8 years, 12 months ago

Welcome to the world of Type I and Type II errors.

The world is not black and white. When given a binary (2-way) choice, you are always presented with the opportunity to make two errors. In this case, when the siren goes off you can decide to 1) take shelter, or 2) not take shelter. If there is no tornado, and you did take shelter you made a Type I error. But, if there was a tornado and you did not take shelter, then you made a Type II error.

Generally, Type I errors result in no, or the minimal, harm. They are usually just a bother. But Type II errors can result in maximum harm, or death. So, it's your choice: in the future, will you choose to make a Type I or Type II error when the sirens go off?

Danielle Brunin 8 years, 12 months ago

Thanks Dancemom. Irish, of course she's entitled to her opinion, just as we are entitled to ours. The fact is that the hook echo with this storm was dramatic and NWS actually issued a tornado warning for central Lawrence. I think it's pretty rare for them to issue such a specific warning, short of a "tornado emergency" such as was issued in Greensburg. Hour and a half or not, with all of the college students and residents with lack of access to basements, even a relatively small tornado could cause carnage. EM's sounding of the sirens was exactly what the public asked them to do after last year's tornado warning with no sirens. It was responsible and they should be commended.

DRsmith 8 years, 12 months ago

The fact that you are going to stop and open windows proves how out of touch you really are.

WHY 8 years, 12 months ago

I wish they would quit interrupting my shows with weather warnings. If I wanted to know why the wind is blowing outside I would turn to the weather channel. And the beeping sound...

missmia 8 years, 12 months ago

sirens went off by my house 8 times and other than a little rain, nothing happened. having grown up in wichita with several tornado occurrences each year, i was always taught that sirens were the last step in the warning system and when you heard them, it meant there was a tornado on the ground in the vicinity. maybe the problem is that the process for warning people has changed and it should be made more clear what "watch", "warning", and sirens mean.

Sheila Hooper White 8 years, 12 months ago

If you would go to the following site your questions will be answered: http://www.spc.noaa.gov/faq/

This should explain it. Like I said before if you don't want to take cover don't. But I think I can give up whatever I'm doing and take my family to the basement. To each his own:)

kmat 8 years, 12 months ago

I was napping and very thankful for the sirens. Then lightning hit near our house and we lost all power. All we had to go by were the sirens and a little radio. And there was a lot of rotation in that storm (taped it).

Some of us don't have a basement to go to and appreciate all the heads up we can get. We have to head to my husband's work (if we have time) if we want to take cover underground. So having a 20 minute warning was awesome.

Hard to believe someone living in tornado alley is upset about getting plenty of warning about tornadic activity.

a_flock_of_jayhawks 8 years, 12 months ago

Irish (Irish Swearingen) says…

"The sirens went on and off forever and nothing happened."

I'm sure that if you told the people whose property was damaged and lives were threatened that "nothing happened", they would strongly disagree with you. Public safety does not equal only you. Heaven forbid that your day was disrupted to save others lives.

weatherguy48 8 years, 12 months ago

Had that storm dropped it's tornado before it hit Lawrence, then a huge swath of the north end of town would've been damaged.

oliveoyl 8 years, 12 months ago

I don't have a basement so I love the sirens going off early...gives me time to rally the dogs and truck it to a friends house. Better safe than dead, Heather.

Melissa Sigler 8 years, 12 months ago

I agree with most everyone who says

"better safe than sorry"

COMMON SENSE, some people have it.

jehovah_bob 8 years, 12 months ago

I think you should all leave Heather alone, her opinion is just. I was standing in the street with my video camera for over an hour trying to catch a tornado. To me, a siren means run as quickly as you can out the nearest door, grabbing a video camera and opening a few cans of beer if possible.

bevy 8 years, 12 months ago

Why, Bob? If you give the tornado beer will it jump over your house and hit the neighbors instead?

jehovah_bob 8 years, 12 months ago


The beer steadies my camera hand and prepares me for when KCTV 5 comes to town, but it would be freakin' sweet if it had that effect.

passionatelibra 8 years, 12 months ago

I was just curious on why the sirens were sounded then quiet, then sounded, then quiet. Does that mean the rotation stopped then restarted or that there was a shift in the storm?

I was happy they gave plenty of warning. It gave me time to cage the cats and call my Son who was out of siren range. I was just confused by the on/off off/on action.

sinverguenza 8 years, 12 months ago

I want the city to give me a tax credit for living so close to the sirens. I'm pretty sure I've got permanent hearing damage.

You can't win on this. They don't sound them, people are put off. They do sound them, people are put off.

I vote they should sound them, but less frequently than they did on Saturday.

I'm also writing a letter to the NWS asking them to change the definitions of watch and warning. I like to write useless letters.

"Watch" should mean be wary of the weather conditions.

"Warning" should mean the weather conditions are actually capable of producing a tornado.

"Tornado" should mean there's a funnel in the sky that's tearing stuff up and knocking stuff down.

I don't think Bryan Busby should interrupt the TV until we reach "Tornado." A banner warning with a beep at the tornado "warning" stage is sufficient. And Mr. Busby - when you're talking about areas out of your viewing range, that means we don't care, and the people who do can't see you!

KsTwister 8 years, 12 months ago

Obviously, if the person has two good legs to run on then he can get to cover. Did you consider the elderly and others who are not as quick? ..................I did not think so, but if a funnel drops right on top on you with little warning should you sound it only then? Perhaps we wait then until one does?

RedwoodCoast 8 years, 12 months ago

I disagree with the LTE. Most likely, the "possible tornado" was radar-indicated rotation. Had the sirens not been sounded and had the storm actually dropped a funnel into some populated part of the county, people would be frothing at the mouth demanding an explanation of why the sirens didn't sound. The fact is, unless they have confirmed sightings by trained storm spotters, which is not always the case, all the NWS has to go on is radar-indicated rotation. Personally, I would rather be safe than sorry.

RedwoodCoast 8 years, 12 months ago

Oh, and I'll also note that opening windows will do absolutely nothing for your home during a tornado, and it could even augment the tornado's ability to rip the roof off of the place.

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 8 years, 12 months ago

Oh, I dunno... given the handful of potentially life-altering events signaled by sirens each year... what exactly was the complaint, again?

( hey, "red"... just trying to keep the myth alive )

password 8 years, 12 months ago

we go to the basement and then decide if we're in the clear or not. we have our "safety" place ready with radio, tv, flashlight, batteries, candles, food, phone charger, beer, water etc. Better to be safe than sorry.

RedwoodCoast 8 years, 12 months ago

password: As long as you have beer in your safety place, I think you'll be fine.

bearded_gnome 8 years, 12 months ago


there was an active funnel sighted in the sky from over near clinton lake to near the hospital. it disorganized a bit crossing the river, then as we all know it touched down for 9 miles of distruction. in Leavenworth county! Heather, how can you complain for this? the county changed the siren policy for complaints last year. I pray to God they don't change again in response to such lunacy as your complaint.

and it isn't the city that sounds the sirens, it is the county Emergency Management/EOC.

PassionateLibra, they kept sounding the sirens because the danger was continuing. as I said, there was a real funnel just not on the ground for a long track. what is that, five miles from clinton lake to crossing the river north of the hospital? formed that way it was a second's difference between funnel in the air and destructive finger of God tearing across west, central, and north lawrence!

Irish, you are so lame, please keep ignoring the sirens, consider that your special civic duty, okay?

gphawk89 8 years, 12 months ago

"...they started sounding the sirens whenever there's a warning in Douglas County..."

Here, the sirens are sounded whenever there is a tornado spotted in even an adjacent county (which could be 60-70 miles away). Hence no one I know pays any attention to the sirens.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 12 months ago

I am sorry for those who had property damaged in the tornado. I am just not going to run every time I hear a siren. There was no reason for me to be concerned. I don't think the world revolves around me, I do think of others, I do like others. I just think in our discussions and disagreements we could phrase our opinions in a little more civil tone. Heather was not whining because she was woke up, she was merely stating circumstances. Kansas is a great state with strong people.

passionatelibra 8 years, 12 months ago

bearded_gnome - Thank you for answering my question. My supervisor asked me if I thought they were doing an all clear siren then sounding them when the storm started kicking up again. I didn't read anything about an all clear when I looked at the emergency management site.

I saw the rotation in the sky by my apartment. I thought I saw the clouds dropping but then they seemed to go back up.

My cats are smarter than I am. They tried to hide in the litter box while I was on the back balcony watching the clouds. I ended up digging them out and putting them in their carrier for quick transport if needed.

bearded_gnome 8 years, 12 months ago

you're welcome PA, I listen to the eoc/weather spotters at those times.

it was a continuing threat in the county all of that time, plus there were other cloud formations that could have quickly become funnels too.

Irish, yes, please do us all a favor and ignore the sirens!

as I just wrote, conditions existed that a new funnel could form quickly. plus the funnel that was tracked across lawrence could have easily zagged to the right after crossing 9th, headed east, and widened, making no trouble to have it hit 11th and vt.

the sirens are for your protection. if you choose to endanger yourself, fine. please don't encourage others. Irish Hermicleo=casualty.

notjustastudent 8 years, 12 months ago

Just saw on the weather channel today that the NWS now recommends that people stay in their cars and duck instead of heading for a ditch.

I love all the statements that contain "means to me." This may sound harsh, but who the hell cares what the sirens mean to you. There's a reason they have Tornado safety week E.V.E.R.Y year, not just once in a while. For those who think they don't have time to check the TV before heading for a neighbor's cellar- invest in a weather radio. You can program them to stay silent for most watches and warnings, so don't give me that "goes off too much so I shut it off" crap.

Personally, I rely on 3 things in severe weather- sirens to get my attention, TV or radio (battery powered) for more information, and my cat- if she hides, I don't care what the TV says, I run for cover!

Raider 8 years, 12 months ago

I'm with Heather on this one. The sirens went off for over in the 19th and Haskell area. This was a bit excessive. This is sort of like how how everytime someone so much as breaks a fingernail in an accident they call the Life Flight helicopters. People are too quick to panic around there.

When a REAL emergency happens, people ignore the warnings because so far they've alll turned out to be false alarms.

jafs 8 years, 12 months ago


Most folks I see tend to go outside to "look at the storm" when sirens go off - I don't see a lot of unnecessary panic.

The sirens can go off or not - I don't think they can sound certain parts of the city specifically.

And, again, since the last time they didn't go off and there was a tornado in town, the city changed their policy to have the sirens go off whenever there's a warning in Douglas County.

You are free to do whatever you want when they go off.

sinister9128 8 years, 11 months ago

I have to agree with the original poster on this. The Saturday in question the alarms went off 7 times in a 20 minute period of time for ABSOLUTELY NO REASON! I can understand sounding the alarm when a tornado watch changes to a warning, but is there really a need sounding the siren a ton of times unless there legitimately is a tornado. I realize the thought process is sounding the alarm various times will warn people the weather is favorable for a tornado, however, this was overkill. The sirens didn't propel anyone in my neighborhood to take any kind of cover or keep an eye on the weather. After the sirens went off for the third time, people started mowing their lawns, washing the car, essentially go back to normal life. I don't really think that's what is intended when the sirens are sounded for some reason. I'd worry that the more the siren are used for no real reason just ends up making people more calloused to the sound of it and therefore, making them that much more likely to not take precautions when there IS a need to.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.