CREATED May. 9, 2013
Grand Island, NE - Clyde Renke and his wife crawled out of the hole in their basement. They saved their daughter's graduation picture and a brand new pair of Osh Kosh overalls. Never worn.
Down the street, the Miller family found only seven place settings of silverware.
Both families had been huddled in their basements for hours, as a series of tornadoes whirled around Grand Island.
"I had just said to the people down here in the basement, I hope the radio station is right. The alert is on until 9:30 and then it hit. We're thankful to be alive," said Mrs. Dale Miller.
On June 3, 1980, seven tornadoes hit the city, one after the other. A lot has changed since then; technology has improved storm warnings and storm recovery.
"In 1980, you really had one big sledgehammer, outdoor warning sirens," says Hall County Emergency Manager Jon Rosenlund. "It was large, loud, and you hoped people would hear them, especially at night in their beds."
Sirens did warn the people of Grand Island that night.
The statistics tell the storm story. Five dead, 200 injured, 500 homes and businesses destroyed.
When Rosenlund arrived in Grand Island years later, he described the city as hyper-aware, "They listen for the outdoor warning sirens, they monitor their weather, they watch the skies and they remember and talk about that day."
Tornado forecasting and warning systems are more reliable now. The familiar outdoor sirens, while still valuable, are not the best or fastest warning.
Rosenlund says, "Today, we're really traveling with our emergency warning systems in our pockets."
We can send weather alerts by phone call, tweets, Facebook and text message. Even those tools could be out of date soon, replaced by the national emergency alert system called WEA, the wireless emergency alert.
If the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning in our area this year, it will use the wireless alert system.
The warning is sent to a server at FEMA headquarters in Washington D.C., which then sends the alert to cell towers in the counties under a warning. Most cell phone companies are participating in the system; which is free. Most smart phones can receive the emergency alerts.
Back in Grand Island, Dale and Cyndi Weiseman were newlyweds in 1980; they had just returned from their honeymoon. Dale was outside trimming bushes and Cyndi was putting away wedding gifts when the first tornado hit. "It was like slow motion, you could hear things falling, the stillness was gone, it was total chaos," Cyndi remembers.
When it was finally safe to come out of their basement, their home was gone. The wedding gifts were destroyed. They moved in with Cyndi's parents.
The experience taught the Weisemans to plan ahead whenever there's a severe weather risk, "If it's in the evening, get your shoes lined up, make sure you know where your billfold is, purse, personal belongings, you know you need to have," said Dale.
New technology and wireless communication provides better and faster warnings and better and faster recovery after disasters, wherever the next storm hits.
"We need to be storm ready at home and at work," says Rosenlund. A warning the people of Grand Island don't need to reminded about.