Very early Monday, residents across James City County received phone calls and alerts for a tornado warning.
But some of them didn’t receive anything at all.
“There are a lot of questions why people didn’t get the alert,” said Sara Ruch, emergency manager for the county. “But not every area of the county was covered for these warnings.”
Three alerts were sent out Monday morning to the upper and lower portions of the county because those are the areas where the National Weather Service saw possible tornado threats, Ruch said.
Residents in the middle portion of the county were spared the alert because they were not within the region of harm.
At 8 a.m. on Monday, James City County tweeted that while the old alert system would send messages to everyone in the county, the new system allows it only to reach out to those who might be affected.
“Advances in technology allow meteorologists to more accurately predict the areas that are in danger,” the tweet said.
Ruch said a tornado watch alert was issued at 12:42 a.m. Monday. However, only residents who signed up on the JCC Alert app, and registered to receive information after 11 p.m. got the message.
When the tornado warnings were issued, Ruch has the power to override the system to send an alert to everyone who is registered.
A tornado watch means there are the proper weather conditions for a tornado to form in a particular area, while a warning means a tornado has either been sighted or indicated by weather radar, according to the National Weather Service.
The first tornado warning was issued at 2:16 a.m. to residents in the upper portions of James City County. At 3:01 a.m., residents in the upper county received another alert, but at 3:26 a.m., residents in the lower portion of the county were alerted.
Those alerts were sent to most home phones in the area, but only those who registered their number on the app received a call via cellphone, Ruch said.
“We can only send information to people that sign up or if your phone number is listed in the phone book,” Ruch said. “If you aren’t listed, I can’t send you anything.”
While hurricanes might not seem like a regular occurrence in the area, Ruch said there have been five non-hurricane related tornadoes since 2004.
Last October, Toano was hit by a tornado as a result of Hurricane Michael. Ruch said this can happen if the right conditions are present during a hurricane.
Currently, the National Weather Service is continuing to assess the damage in the area, Ruch said. This means individuals will be sent into the field to look at the damage and determine if there were any tornado tracks.
While there’s usually a few days to prepare for a hurricane, a tornado can strike spontaneously and Ruch said the best tactic is to always be prepared with emergency supplies, which can be found on the county’s website.
For those who want stay educated, Williamsburg and James City County is hosting an annual SKYWARN class which will teach locals how to recognize warning weather signals in the sky and other aspects of weather reporting.
The class for this year sold out with 150 people attending, but Ruch said there will most likely be another event in the spring of 2020.