By Will Ravenstein, 1st Inf. Dvi. PostMarch 20, 2019
Kansas lies in the middle of an area known as Tornado Alley. Tornado Alley is a nickname given to an area in the southern Plains of the central United States that experiences a high frequency of tornadoes each year. Tornadoes in this region happen in late spring and a few early fall, according to www.ncdc.noaa.gov/climate-information/extreme-events/us-tornado-climatology/tornado-alley.
"So in order for a tornado to occur, it needs a couple of things to happen," said Tech. Sgt. Heather Rieck, Detachment 2, 3rd Weather Squadron, 3rd Air Operations Group. "We need warm moist air from the Gulf to move up from the south, and then cold, dry air from the north to move and when those two meet, usually in this general area … that's where the storms will form. And that's why this area is Tornado Alley because that's usually where the two air masses will meet."
The thunderstorms need the right mix of the two air masses to form. When this happens, there is a chance of a tornado forming. Not all thunderstorms will produce tornadoes, Rieck said.
The storms will feature heavy rains, strong winds and the potential for hail, she said.
Rieck warned just because not all of those are hitting the ground, it doesn't mean they are not happening in the upper levels of the storm, which can reach 20,000 feet -- or higher.
As weather moves into the area, Chris Hallenbeck, emergency management coordinator, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, said it's important to have multiple ways of staying informed of what's happening.
"These could include your local community emergency alert system, Red Cross Emergency Alerts, [National Weather Service] Alerts, [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] Weather Radio's and many more," he said. "Many of these allow you the option to choose voice, text or email notifications."
Fort Riley also has the AtHoc alert system for smart phone users to download and sign-up through the Fort Riley network.
"For those personnel who are a service member or Department of the Army civilian employee and have a common access card they can sign up directly at their computer workstation," Hallenbeck said. "They can also sign up a family member on their account at the same time. For those personnel who do not have a common access card or may have a deployed spouse, they can contact the Emergency Management Office and I can sign them up."
More information on the AtHoc alert system and how to enroll can be found on the Fort Riley-Ready Army website, home.army.mil/riley/index.php/about/directorates-staff/DPTMS-1/ready-army, or contact the Emergency Management Office at 785-240-0400.
In addition to AtHoc, Fort Riley has an outdoor mass notification system with 49 giant voice towers and 19 tornado sirens. These are tested every Friday at noon.
"Fort Riley maintains a very robust early warning and mass notification system that uses several methods to notify residents and the workforce," Hallenbeck said.
• Tornado sirens to warn of an immediate tornado threat.
• Giant voice system with pre-recorded messages and the option to use live-voice if needed.
• The AtHoc emergency alert system delivers pop-up messages on Department of Defense computers, AtHoc Mobile app, text messages and email alerts to mobile media devices and voice messages to any phone.
• Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, A FEMA National Public Alert and Warning System used for local alerting and has the ability to issue critical public alerts and warnings to people in any given area. It is not a subscription-based mass notification system. The methods of notification include radio, television, cellular phones, NOAA All-Hazards Weather Radio and select internet applications and websites.
• Working with the public affairs office, social media, such as the Fort Riley Facebook and Twitter pages are used, along with the Fort Riley app.
The National Weather Service in Topeka, Kansas, issues watches and warnings for the Flint Hills Region, including Geary and Riley Counties. The Fort Riley Operations Center, with help from the Det. 2, 3rd WS, 3rd AOG, will issue the warnings for Fort Riley, Rieck said.
"We have very close talking and communications with the National Weather Service which is out of Topeka," she said. "We will talk a lot and we will talk about when to put things out. But, if we see something here that looks like it can be a tornado or strong thunderstorm, we are going to issue the warning or the watch is going to go to the Fort Riley Operations Center."
This can be confusing, Hallenbeck said when it comes to watches and warnings as the storm or tornado may be in the county but not affecting the cantonment area. He said the tornado sirens may be going off in Junction City, Kansas, or Manhattan, Kansas, but they may not be sounding on post.
Hallenbeck said to be familiar with the local media options during periods of turbulent weather.
"We always encourage our community to know what local media outlets are available to received and maintain coverage of an emergency event," he said. "Many of these also have mobile apps that provide up-to-date information for those that may not have access to radio or television."
Most importantly, Hallenbeck said, is to follow the Ready Army mantra -- Be Informed, Make A Plan, Build A Kit, and Get Involved.
"Remember that preparedness is everyone's responsibility," he said.