Thornton, Colorado, USA
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City of Thornton discusses weather warning systems

Thursday, June 10th, 2010 12:43pm MDT
On June 3, 1981, Thornton was the site of the most destructive tornado in the history of the Denver metro area.  The City of Thornton is now evaluating options to warn residents of severe weather threats. (City of Thornton archives)

On June 3, 1981, Thornton was the site of the most destructive tornado in the history of the Denver metro area. The City of Thornton is now evaluating options to warn residents of severe weather threats. (City of Thornton archives)

Twenty nine years ago, the city of Thornton was struck by what was the most destructive tornado to hit the Denver metro area in history – a record which stands to this day.  Now, the City of Thornton has started to investigate options to alert residents when severe weather is set to strike. 

Visitors to ThorntonWeather.com have often asked us if the city was taking any steps to protect its citizens and warn them about severe weather.  The city – and Adams County – are lacking any type of alert system.  Following last year’s ‘Summer of Storms,’ we were told the city would look into it

Current options for citizens range from the Emergency Alert System used by television and radio broadcasters, free and pay Internet services as well as NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (weather radio).  As we have discussed previously, these systems have their limitations. 

At this week’s city council update session, the Thornton City Council heard a presentation from city staff on the alternatives available.  Utilizing Reverse 911 and contracting with a third party provider were two of the items discussed. 

  • Read the presentation city staff gave to the Thornton City Council below

In trying to identify ways to keep citizens aware of deteriorating weather conditions, city staff told council, “Technology is changing so quickly that supporting a single system would not be efficient.” 

The Denver area is at the western edge of Tornado Alley and as we have seen historically and in recent days, the danger is real. Click image for larger view. Image courtesy NOAA.

Rather than implement their own system, staff recommended the city rely upon the federal government and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) forthcoming Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS)

Slated for widespread deployment in 2010, IPAWS will take the old Emergency Alert System and move it into the modern age by leveraging new communication technologies such as email and cellular phones. 

Mayor Erik Hansen told ThorntonWeather.com, “The City of Thornton recognizes the dangers of severe weather and we are actively working to identify solutions to protect its citizens.”

While the city waits for IPAWS, staff said they recommend the “development of a Weather Awareness Public Education Program that would be implemented in the spring of each year.”  They further would work to encourage residents to purchase weather radios. 

ThorntonWeather.com’s Take

We are pleased that the city is finally taking some steps in the right direction – albeit 29 years late. 

NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards is essential to protecting you and your family.

Their recommendation that residents purchase NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards is certainly a sound one.  As we wrote recently, these should be every citizen’s first line of defense against severe weather

The implementation of a severe weather education program is also a step in the right direction, assuming it takes the form of something more substantial than the simple brochure the city developed this year

Each spring the National Weather Service (NWS) offers storm spotter training seminars.  These would likely be overkill for average citizens however we think it would be ideal for the City of Thornton to partner with the Denver / Boulder NWS office to offer education sessions for citizens.  These could be taped and then shown on Channel 8 and on the city’s website.   

We do have our reservations about waiting for and relying on the forthcoming IPAWS system when commercial systems are available, proven and ready now for the city to implement.  Big government projects rarely are completed on time and often do not perform as expected.  Hopes are high for IPAWS but we are cautious on giving it any sort of endorsement. 

Granted, severe weather on par with the 1981 tornado is rare however last year’s severe weather and the Windsor tornado of two years ago show the danger is present.  If a warning system saves one life, the cost incurred is well worth it and we hope the city continues to stay on top of this issue – we will certainly be watching.


June 8, 2010 – City of Thornton City Council Update on Emergency Weather Warning Options

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One Response to “City of Thornton discusses weather warning systems”

  1. Thomas Austin Says:

    On Saturday afternoon and on other occasions we have been outside and can barely hear the siren and can not hear what is being said on the speaker. If there is a car or anyone talking, kids playing you can not hear the sound at all. If we are inside and we needed to hear this siren and can not?? This is the first city we have lived in that the sirens are not heard. We would feel much better if we could hear the sirens. We live in East Lake Ranch 117th & Jasmine. Let us know what is, or can be done to help in this matter. Thank you very much.

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