BOLLINGER COUNTY, Mo. – Severe weather in Missouri produced a tornado in the southeastern part of the state Wednesday morning, resulting in uprooted trees, property loss and the deaths of several residents.
“There’s not even words to describe it; it all happened so fast,” Sheoby Davidson, a storm survivor in Bollinger County, told Nexstar’s KTVI.
Other survivors were similarly astonished at the forces of nature on display Wednesday morning. Fortunately, Davidson’s family escaped with their lives — and they credit the mobile alert system for giving them warning and allowing them to take cover in time.
Davidson and her mom said everyone in their family went scrambling for cover after getting the alerts on their phones.
“I jumped out and I was freaking out. I was, like, ‘There’s a tornado! There’s a tornado!'” Davidson remembered. “Yeah, within, like, five minutes we were in the bathtub.”
The Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system is activated when the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning. Destructive thunderstorm warnings and higher-end flash flood warnings also trigger these alerts.
Kevin Deitsch, the warning coordination manager at the National Weather Service office in St. Louis, said the alert system has become more sophisticated and accurate over the years.
“The technology has gotten good now where it can use our polygon where we draw the polygon for the tornado warning,” said Deitsch. “And it knows that you’re in that polygon, so your cellphone will go off if you’re in the polygon, which has been a huge addition to the warning system because now so many more people get the warnings immediately.”
Deitsch said those within the polygon will be the first to receive the alerts. But anyone approaching the area — after the alert has been sent — should also be getting the warnings upon crossing into danger.
“You’re driving and, say, you’re outside the tornado warning but you’re driving into it, once you drive into it, cross into that polygon, your cellphone will also alarm at that point,” Deitsch said.
“If you get one of those on your phone, you should certainly take action,” he said.
Davidson and her family were among the lucky Bollinger County residents who survived the events of Wednesday morning. At least five in the area were confirmed dead after a trailer was swept away by the tornado, including two residents aged 18 and 15, according to neighbors.