The City of Blackwell gears up for severe weather season

by Charles Gerian

When the wind comes sweeping down the plains, it usually follows the rain, and this season there appears to be a lot of both on the radar, and Blackwell Severe Weather Operation Department (SWOD) Director Brian Muret provided some information on the Blackwell storm spotters were preparing.

“We currently have 9 spotters,” Muret said, “Myself, Kevin Zimmerschied, Lonnie McCoulloch, Ken Taylor, Bill Merchant, Darrel Grossardt, Billie Phillips, Nelda Shipman, and Brett Shipman, all of us are committed to keeping Blackwell and Kay County residents informed and safe during severe weather incidents”

When tornado-prone weather does hit, Blackwell citizens know the sirens are soon to follow. There are currently 12 Tornado sirens in Blackwell, and Director Muret said they go off the minute a Tornado Warning is issued for the area:

“They sound off initially for three minutes, and every 10 minutes as needed if there's still danger. We will not be doing an all-clear siren.”

The sirens will be tested beginning March 15, weather permitting, and will be tested “every other week or so” leading into severe weather season where they will be tested more regularly. Nixle alerts will be issued before testing, and the sirens will not be tested on overcast or cloudy days, or when severe weather is forecast for that day.

“We just had the sirens maintained and serviced at the end of February so they're ready to run. Like any machine though, the more they're used the quicker there are to be problems, so we'll only be testing intermittently before storm season.”

For the central-plains area, SWOD Director Muret said April through early June is what is marked as “severe weather season.”

When school is not in session, Blackwell Public Schools allows the City of Blackwell to use two of their sites as storm shelters.

“Residents who don't have cellars or shelters of their own can use the Blackwell Middle School and Blackwell Elementary school as public shelters, but there is a strict no-pets policy. We had a lot of issues regarding people not cleaning up after their animals this past year, and it becomes a safety liability when you have twenty or so dogs and cats running around, getting riled up from the storm, they could attack each other or someone else,” Brian continued, “Plus the Schools haven't been too keen on the idea.”

Blackwell residents have several avenues available for up-to-the-minute weather coverage including the Nixle news alert service that can be subscribed to by texting “74631” to 888-777. Blackwell locals who are socially connected via Facebook can also find the Blackwell Skywarn and Blackwell Storm Spotters pages from the City of Blackwell's SWOD who offer live updates, videos, and more during severe weather outbreaks. Blackwell's SWOD can also be found on Twitter @Blackwell_SWOD.

“We've considered doing Facebook Live videos this season, we haven't tried it yet but I'm excited to try that,” Muret said, “and of course I urge Blackwell citizens to subscribe to Nixle. It's so simple to do and so worth it. I have access to it directly as does the Blackwell P.D. Who help us a lot in getting up-to-the-minute information to subscribers.”

AccuWeather, based out of State College Pennsylvania, is predicting over one thousand tornadoes for the 2019 severe weather season, 1,075 to be exact, with the states predicted to be impacted the most being Oklahoma, Kansas, and parts of Texas and Nebraska. The reasoning behind this predicted outbreak of devastating weather from AccuWeather is warmer-than-normal sea temperatures over the Gulf of Mexico that “will lead to increased moisture transport from the Gulf over the region and ultimately a higher frequency of severe weather in these areas.”

Last year, the U.S. Set record lows for the number of fatalities and the number of “violent” tornadoes, those with estimated wind speeds of 166 mph or higher. Tornadoes killed just 10 Americans last year, the lowest number since record-keeping began in 1875. The previous record low total was 12 in 1910.

Currently, Kay County ranks in the top 9 for tornado totals in the State of Oklahoma, as reported by News 9 meteorologist Lacey Swope in a statistics-based map posted to her public Facebook page in mid-February. The map, showing Oklahoma counties broken up and tallied from 1950-2018 had Kay County in 4th place with 96 reported tornadoes just behind Osage (103) and Canadian (102) with Caddo County and Oklahoma County tied at the number 1 spot with 117.