When the National Weather Service confirmed a EF1 tornado near Marshfield on Tuesday, May 21, Marshfield Fire Chief Michael Taylor and his Emergency Management assistant Lisa McCarthy were already monitoring the progress of the storm at the Marshfield Fire Department.
In the event of severe weather, they watch the progress of a storm and can activate the storm sirens in Marshfield through a variety of ways.
"One of them is we ask Webster County 911 to set them off for us," said McCarthy. "The other way is we can do it here at our base station, and then both the Marshfield Fire Chief and I through our radios can do it. The chief can also do it through his mobile radio as well."
To keep track of the storms, the Marshfield Fire Department has the National Weather Service (NWS) Chat, an instant messaging program utilized by NWS operational personnel to share critical warning decision expertise and other types of significant weather information.
"We're able to receive data about storms and other alerts that the National Weather Service has issued," said Taylor. "We can do discussions with the National Weather Service and other emergency management agencies. We also have weather radios that we use to keep track of the storm."
When the first round of storms came through on Tuesday, McCarthy said they were monitoring everything and had to pull out storm spotters and activate them to go out to the district.
"When the second round came through, we saw a mention of it on the chat," said McCarthy. "We saw it on the radar. We went outside and we had visual on it. About that time, after standing there in amazement and watching it, we said, ‘OK. It’s time for us to go in our storm shelter.’ We have a storm shelter in the base for this very reason."
According to Taylor, the Marshfield Fire Department has policies in place regarding when it activates storm sirens and opens safe rooms. These policies are noted in the City of Marshfield Community Safe Room Operations Plan (CSOP). According to the CSOP, storm sirens shall be activated and the safe room will be opened when the following conditions are in place:
1.) The National Weather Service issues a tornado warning with the Marshfield area in the warned polygon and in the path of the storm;
2.) A trained spotter reports a tornado in Webster County, Greene County, Dallas County or Christian County;
3.) The National Weather Service issues a thunderstorm warning producing life-threatening winds of approximately 75 miles per hour or greater, with the Marshfield area in the warned polygon and in the path of the storm;
4.) A trained spotter reports life-threatening winds of approximately 75 miles per hour or greater in or approaching the Marshfield area.
The CSOP states when the sirens are activated, they will sound a steady tone for three minutes. Sirens are cycled or “rested” for three minutes. The sirens may be sounded multiple times during the warning. There are four sirens at the following locations in Marshfield: one west of White Oak Road on Maple Street, one by the Marshfield High School on Highway DD, one at the end of Prairie Lane where it comes together with Jefferson Street and one on Crestwood Avenue.
Taylor noted that while outdoor sirens are nice to have in severe weather situations, residents should also listen to weather radios or local media to get updates during a storm.
"Tornado sirens are designed for outdoors," said Taylor. "They aren't designed to warn people indoors, so it’s important that people have weather radios on or go to a local media source to get information on the storm."
There are two FEMA safe rooms in Marshfield that are open to the public in the event of severe weather. The first one is located on the Webster County Fairgrounds. The second is located in the Webster Elementary School cafeteria/Marshfield Junior High School and is open after school hours. There is also a FEMA shelter in Northview at the Northview Fire Station.