TORNADO WEEK: Technology plays big role in keeping you safe

Published: Apr. 19, 2019 at 7:48 PM CDT
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Weather technology is always improving, helping us predict severe storms — especially tornadoes — as accurately as possible.

Changes in technology are helping us alert people of all ages, like Maureen Masters, who lived in the Westgate neighborhood when the 1975 tornado struck.

“In those days, it wasn't constant where you get a thing on your phone or anything like that that the weather was bad,” Masters said.

Meteorologists issued a tornado warning that afternoon nearly 30 minutes before the tornado struck 72nd Street.

The warning was conveyed by sirens.

“We were without power for about seven days,” Masters said. “I had the only working phone in the neighborhood, and of course, in those days no one had cellular.”

“It's really easier because there’s less searching you have to do,” said Kennedy Batten of Omaha. “You don't have to wait for a certain time to get it… You can get that information whenever you want.”

Jake Garlock of Omaha agrees.

“I think it makes it easier to be aware of what's going on and when it’s supposed to happen,” he said. “In addition to being able to access weather information at your fingertips, technology allows us to receive alerts even when we aren't searching for them.”

Weather radar began as an accident during World War II and has drastically improved over the years. Now, radar can be accessed by smartphones — another way technology is keeping us ahead of the storm.

The FCC began wireless emergency alerts in 2012, issuing 40,000 alerts since then, including those for dangerous weather and missing children. They're free, and the default setting for Apple and Android users.

Today, technology has changed. Everyone seems to have a smartphone and a weather app.

Beginning in the 1990s, Doppler radars were built with the capability of letting us see velocity, making rotation much easier to spot.

And in just the last 10 years, dual-pol technology has been included. This allows the radar to take vertical and horizontal scans, making it easier to detect different types of precipitation and things like debris — extremely beneficial at night or if the tornado is rain-wrapped.

Today, Masters carries her cell phone everywhere she goes, always on the lookout for weather updates because she remembers that terrible May day in 1975.

“It kind of makes an effect on you,” she said.