For residents, storm warnings trailed behind damage
By the time warning sirens sounded Friday morning in Farmington the most serious damage had already been done.
According to Dakota Communication Center interim director Diane Lind, warning sirens were activated in Farmington at 3:46 a.m. Aug. 13. But by that time, many residents in the neighborhoods hit hardest by that morning's tornado were already outside examining homes that had been damaged, garages that in some cases had been demolished and trees that had been uprooted or snapped in two.
The DCC, Dakota County's central dispatch center, is in charge of activating sirens countywide. Decisions on when to sound the alarm are based on information from the National Weather Service and on reports from police and emergency workers in the field. The DCC can set off sirens for individual cities, and even individual neighborhoods.
"We don't set off the sirens for Farmington if the only thing that's being impacted is the northeast part of the county," Lind said.
Friday's tornado first touched down at about 3:04 a.m., but Lind said the DCC didn't get a storm-warning teletype from the weather service until 3:14. That notice mentioned Randolph, Rosemount, Coates, Hastings, Hampton, Vermillion and New Trier, but not Farmington. The DCC eventually activated the Farmington sirens based on reports from the field. Lind said there were no teletypes from the weather service mentioning Farmington until 4:56 a.m.
National Weather Service meteorologist Lisa Schmidt said part of the challenge last week is that overnight storms are difficult to forecast. Tornadoes don't typically occur at night, she said, and when they do they can be difficult to identify.
"We don't always have spotters or storm chasers out there to collect that information," Schmidt said. "That can hinder the process as well."
Farmington police administrative sergeant Jim Constantineau said the storm developed quickly.
"Rotation literally happened in an instant," he said.
Schmidt emphasized that storm sirens are not the ideal warning for people who are in their homes. The sirens, seven of which are located around Farmington, are intended to serve as a warning to people who are outside. Schmidt and Lind both recommended residents use a weather radio for the most up-to-date storm information.