I-Team report: Early warnings - WNEM TV 5

I-Team report: Early warnings

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(Source: WNEM) (Source: WNEM)
BAY COUNTY, MI (WNEM) -

Severe weather in Michigan can happen any day at any time.

"One lady was killed in her bedroom. It was during the night so if the sirens would have went off ya know, they probably would've taken cover," said Kathy Wieck, Bay County resident.

Wieck has lived in Bay County for 30 years. She remembers when a woman was killed 19 years ago after a tree fell on her home in Pinconning. The tree smashed into her bedroom as the mother of three slept.

Wind gusts were reported at 80 miles per hour in Bay County that night. However, Pinconning did not have tornado sirens then.

That incident happened in 1998. Since then the county has made massive emergency upgrades.

"We've slowly expanded to the point where we have 19 sirens throughout the county. We have about a 75 to 80 percent coverage of the population," Bay County Emergency Manager Ryan Manz said.

He said Bay County is a low-risk area for severe weather systems like tornadoes, but he still thinks sirens are necessary.

"There is risk. As a matter of fact, the last tornado we had was just last year just north of Pinconning. It was an EF-0. Luckily it touched down in a fairly rural area, but it did break some windows, take some siding off a couple of homes. So the risk is there," Manz said.

Wieck said she remembers that tornado all too well. She owns and operates the Hair Shack in Pinconning and said it started off as a typical day of work.

"You know, you're kind of busy in the shop. You really don't pay a lot of attention because you're working with your customers and stuff," Wieck said.

Then one of the newly added sirens began to blare its warning.

She said she is incredibly grateful the tornado siren is located directly across the street from her business. She said that proximity is what led to safety.

"The siren went off and then I turned the TV on and seen that there was a bad storm coming so we high-tailed it, got my clients, got in the car and went down to my daughter's house who has a basement," Wieck said.

Manz said emergency managers receive instruction directly from the National Weather Service on when to use a siren.

"They issue the warnings for an area and that's our criteria to set off a siren," Manz said.

However, he said the sound of a siren is not meant to be your sole warning.

"We actually call it an outdoor public warning system because that is what it's meant to do, to warn you if you're outside away from your radio, away from your TV And you're outside enjoying the great outdoors and there's an imminent threat. It is meant to warn you that the threat is on its way and to seek shelter immediately," Manz said.

As for Wieck, she said she's thankful for the warning system and it's potential to save a life.

"I live here in town now too. So that makes it nice too that you know, when you go to bed at night you can hear a siren blowing if a tornado or a bad storm is coming," Wieck said.

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