Why Storm Warning Sirens Weren’t Triggered In Kent County

Posted at 12:50 AM, Jul 07, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-07 10:20:16-04

KENT COUNTY (July 6, 2014) — Strong to severe storms tore through portions of the FOX 17 viewing area on Sunday evening uprooting trees, taking out power lines, and creating an extensive lightning show with torrential rain. In fact, FLASH FLOOD WARNINGS remain in effect through Monday for Kent, Ionia, Montcalm, Newaygo, and Mecosta Counties. Make sure NOT to drive through high water!

FOX 17 and the National Weather Service received reports in southern Kent County (Wyoming/Kentwood/Cutlerville) of a possible tornado touchdown. Witnesses claim they saw a funnel cloud and there was extensive damage across those areas. FOX 17 viewer Jeff VanderVeen says “the entire landscape of Ideal Park has changed.”

While there was no actual tornado warning issued, it’s important to note that severe storms can and do spawn tornadoes. In some cases, it is up to each individual county or emergency manager to determine whether the sirens will be sounded for the possibility of strong, damaging straight line winds. The threshold for that in some counties is anywhere from 70 to 80 mph, so it doesn’t necessarily need to be a tornado.

In many instances counties cannot control each individual community with separate sirens. What tends to happen is that warning sirens may be sounded county-wide even though the real threat is in just a section of the county. In this case, the damage happened so quickly the actual severe thunderstorm warning may have been issued immediately after the damage occurred.

We’ll need to examine the radar velocity data to see if there was more than one volume scan with some type of rotation. Many times radar may indicate rotation within a storm on one scan, then minutes later on the very next scan the rotation is gone. That said, a tornado could have easily touched down between scans. The National Weather Service has been trying to get away from issuing tornado warnings for every possible brief tornado. Instead they try to cover the small, brief spin ups with a severe thunderstorm warning and the text “tornado possible” added in the warning bullet points. If county officials or emergency managers are waiting for a tornado warning to be issued in this case, that clearly explains why the Kent County sirens were not sounded.

The National Weather Service will be conducting a complete damage survey on Monday through the affected areas to see if the damage was the result of a microburst or tornado. There are certain damage patterns that will be examining to arrive at a conclusion.

We continue to receive reports regarding extensive damage around 54th Street and U.S. 131. Also receiving reports of two buildings completely destroyed and several trees uprooted. A half-dozen RV’s (recreational vehicles) flipped over in the 5600 block of Division.

The attached snapshot was submitted by photojournalist Eric Florence taken at the intersection of 52nd and Marlowe (southern Kent County).

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