Officials: Storm sirens can lose effectiveness

Hamilton storm damage caused by straight-line winds.

“It was intense. It was scary,” said Molly Marcotte, who lives down the street from where some of the worst damage happened. She and husband Randy Marcotte heard sounds of trees snapping and transformers blowing, but they say they never heard the sound of storm sirens until after the winds died down.

“Mother Nature’s a beast,” Molly Marcotte said. Their porch swing was pinned against a window, but somehow didn’t break the glass.

Randy Marcotte said he learned this lesson: “I’d say be aware of the storm conditions around you and don’t wait until storm sirens.”

As far as the couple could tell, it was minutes after the storm blew through their neighborhood that the sirens went off.

Even when sirens go off, they often can’t be heard from inside buildings. Butler County Emergency Management Agency Director Matt Haverkos, who was at the scene Wednesday night and again Thursday morning, noted that sirens aren’t very effective at being heard inside buildings, especially when storms are blowing up.

“The sirens went off actually as the storm was occurring here in Hamilton,” Haverkos said. “It was a spotted confirmation…. One of the officers reported back to dispatch to activate the sirens.”

Brandon Peloquin, a warning coordination manager for the National Weather Service, while visiting Lindenwald said the storm seems to have intensified while over the city: “The storm had been going on to the west of here. But it does appear that the storm did strengthen when it moved over Hamilton. And of course it continued moving east-southeast after that.”

Sirens are meant for people outside, such as in parks or soccer events, he said, and are warnings to tune in to media advisories and take cover.

“This front developed over, around Hamilton, and so, in terms of advanced warning, we had put out information that was relayed through the National Weather Service earlier in the day, in terms of a thunderstorm watch for our area, indicating that these cells could develop as they came across the Indiana border, and that’s what we saw happen (Wednesday),” Peloquin said.

In fact, perhaps the biggest takeaway from Wednesday evening’s storms is this: Don’t wait to hear sirens to take cover. Sometimes you won’t hear them even when they’re going off. Other times, it’s possible the sirens won’t sound until after a pop-up storm has already hit your immediate area.

“I’m glad it’s just cars,” Molly Marcotte said. “God was good by keeping people alive and saved.”

Connie Parker perhaps had the closest call of anybody. She had just left her pickup truck and reached her porch when a large tree crushed the top of the truck, and also severely damaged her car, which was parked in front of it.

“It totaled both vehicles,” she said, noting the truck’s frame was bent and the driver’s door couldn’t be opened.

“It probably lasted five minutes and that was it,” Parker said. “And then the sirens went off.”

People on the street said they were comforted by the closeness of the Lindenwald neighborhood, where residents quickly came outside to help clear branches and debris, and examine each other’s damage.

The National Weather Service said it believes the damage in Wednesday’s storms was caused by straight-line winds, partly because the trees on Hooven all fell in the same direction, even though one resident shot video of the clouds swirling in a circular motion above the neighborhood.

Officials evaluated about a one-square-mile area, and found trees that had fallen in a southeastern direction. No funnel had been spotted touching down, and damage was limited to a small area.

Laura Weathers, who shot that video, said if she had it to do over, she would have gone immediately to the basement rather than making the recording.

“We saw some really strange clouds forming, and they were just starting to go in a circular motion,”Weathers said. “The more it got closer, over top of my house, that’s when we felt the straight winds come, and they came with a vengeance, straight down the street.”

“My husband said, ‘This is very serious. We’ve got to grab the cats, get into the basement,’” she added. “I’m trying to look out the windows, which you’re not supposed to do.”

Bethany Huffman, whose front porch was struck by a large tree, said, “it was all very, very fast,” with a loud woosh of wind, “and then it shook our house like an earthquake.”

“Ultimately, we were very lucky,” said Huffman, who moved in during November. After the storm, “we got to meet all our neighbors, which was rad.”

Staff writer Greg Lynch contributed to this report.

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