SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — There’s been no shortage of severe weather in parts of KELOLAND.
There’s been 282 storm reports in South Dakota for May 2022, which include 14 tornado reports, 60 hail reports and 208 severe wind reports. Since 2000, the average number of severe weather reports in the month of May is 90.
Since 2012, Wireless Emergency Alerts have been used to warn members of the public about dangerous weather, missing children and other local emergencies. According to the National Weather Service, WEA’s are sent by “authorized government alerting authorities” and they rely on technology through private mobile carriers like Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile.
The FCC says wireless companies volunteer to participate in the WEA program which allows alerts to be sent automatically to WEA-capable phones during an emergency. The criteria for weather alerts in South Dakota include tornado warnings, flash flood warnings, destructive severe thunderstorms or snow squalls. There’s also alerts for tsunamis, hurricanes, typhoons, storm surge, extreme wind and dust storms.
The criteria for destructive thunderstorms are 80 mph wind speeds or baseball-sized (2.75 inch) hail. The NWS says, on average, only 10% of severe thunderstorms reach the destructive category each year.
Philip Schumacher, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Sioux Falls office, said severe thunderstorms with winds over 80 mph can cause damage similar to EF-1 tornadoes in most cases.
“That’s the type of winds that can take the roofs off houses,” Schumacher said. “That’s why those are the storms that we’re alerting on. We’re not alerting on every storm. We want to make sure that it’s something that really gets people’s attention when they really need to take shelter.”
Schumacher said the NWS has not received a lot of feedback on the alert system. He emphasized usage of the weather alerts depends on the storm.
“On May 12, with the derecho that went through, we put 80 mile an hour winds into the warnings that we had. So that got widespread dissemination on phones across the region,” Schumacher said. “That’s the ones where you really want people to take shelter.”
Cell phone tower location impacts alert system
Storms and tornado warnings come in different sizes and different locations.
Schumacher said receiving a specific WEA may come down to which cell phone tower your phone is pinging from at that specific time and if that specific tower is located within the area of the tornado warning.
For the tornado warnings that were issued on Monday morning and Monday afternoon in the Sioux Falls area, Schumacher said more alerts were sent out in parts of Minnesota and eastern South Dakota.
If your phone didn’t receive an alert, Schumacher said there may be a few different reasons.
“One is what carrier you have. If you have different carriers, one phone may be going off a tower that’s within the tornado warning and another phone maybe pinging to a tower that’s not in the tornado warning,” Schumacher said. “Then you will actually get one phone going off and others not. And that actually happened here at our office on Monday morning. One staff member had their phone go off, and the rest of us did not.”
Schumacher said it comes down to which cell phone tower your phone is pinging from at that specific time and if that specific tower is located within the area of the tornado warning.
“The other thing you can do is definitely check your settings,” Schumacher said. “Contact your carrier to find out how they can change your settings.”
There can be multiple cell phone towers servicing different areas of Sioux Falls and some of the cell phone towers may not have been located.
A tornado warning is issued by the NWS and it includes where radar detected or a spotter sighted a tornado. The warning will include where the tornado was located and what area will be in its path.
KELOLAND Meteorologist Scot Mundt pulled up a tornado warning from Monday which showed the warning path as 30 miles long and 30 miles wide. Tornado warnings typically last for 30 minutes.
Sioux Falls is roughly 80 square miles and sometimes only certain parts of the city will be in the path of a specific tornado warning. The city will sound tornado sirens for the entire city when part of the city is in a tornado warning.
Sirens are designed to alert people outside of an approaching tornado and will only be used when a tornado warning is issued.
Like WEAs and sirens, they are only tools people can use to be alerted to weather events. Mundt encouraged people to give themselves as many options to receive weather alerts along with looking outside.
Schumacher said the WEAs are another way to get information out to people quickly, but added specific media sources will have the latest details.
“Once you get that alert, go to your local media, whether it’s TV or radio or a weather radio,” Schumacher said. “A trusted weather source is the key.”
You can download the KELOLAND Storm Tracker app for fast, accurate local and national weather at your fingertips. With its personal alert notifications, you’ll know when significant weather is heading your way.