Monday, June 16 will be emblazoned in Platteville history thanks to the events of 16 nights ago.
It won’t be a tragic date, thankfully, since no one died as a result of the two tornadoes. A dozen houses and a few other buildings will be gone from their lots as a result of the south-side EF2 tornado, but houses can be replaced, and the things in them can be replaced. People cannot be replaced.
In fact, Platteville was somewhat lucky, though the victims might disagree with that. Imagine if the EF2 tornado had hit one month earlier or two months later, when Southwest Hall, Rountree Commons and Bridgeway Commons were full of students. A tornado path, say, half a mile to the north, or northeast instead of east-southeast, would have gone through a much more populated area.
Two groups of people deserve specific thanks. The first is the emergency services personnel from Platteville and beyond. The first group works here to help us; the second group came here to help us. Firefighters and EMTs were paid nothing to come here; they came here because we needed their help. (And as was demonstrated during Sunday’s and Monday’s tornadoes — more about them momentarily — that aid is reciprocated all over Southwest Wisconsin when it’s needed.)
The second group is all the volunteers, who are invited to the Hometown Festival Party in the Park July 24, who came from all over, again, to help those who suffered damage in the tornadoes. A visit to the Harrison Park neighborhood or West Business 151 reveals missing houses, but the area looks considerably better, with the shredded wood removed by City of Platteville employees and volunteers.
At least one big lesson stands out from Platteville’s tornadoes. I wrote this Sunday night, while, perhaps ironically, a tornado warning was issued for northeastern Grant County. The warning was not issued for a tornado, but for a Severe Thunderstorm Capable of Producing a Tornado, or STCOPAT as I call them. As it happened, though, that storm did produce a tornado. So did, apparently, Monday afternoon’s round of severe weather.
I read a post on our Facebook page asking why the Platteville sirens weren’t sounded Sunday night. That tornado warning was for northeastern Grant County based on said STCOPAT in Fennimore, moving east. The sirens did sound Monday afternoon, not for a tornado, but for the predicted 80-mph straight-line winds, which thankfully avoided Platteville.
There is a damned-if-you-do damned-if-you-don’t reality about the tornado sirens. City or county officials will get criticized if the sirens are sounded and nothing happens. Issuing too many warnings that don’t result in an actual tornado results in people ignoring tornado warnings, with disastrous results when a tornado warning gets ignored until it’s too late.
There was, of course, no tornado warning for Platteville June 16, because no one saw the tornado. It is difficult to see a tornado at night, and it is difficult to see a tornado so that a warning can be issued when the tornado forms inside the city limits. The National Weather Service La Crosse weather radar saw, well, something that looked like rotation at 10:49 p.m., but even with today’s technology the tornado warning would have been too late as soon as it was issued.
With the improvements in weather technology, including weather radios and computerized warnings that are issued almost instantaneously, there is still no substitute for using your brain. (For one thing, there was no tornado watch before Sunday’s tornado.) If the weather outside looks like it’s getting bad, get out of the weather. If the weather looks like it’s getting really bad, head to the basement or the bathroom on your lowest floor. (As evidenced from the only part of Spring Green Lawn Care left standing.) Your safety is ultimately your own responsibility.
Another object of criticism was Alliant Energy, because of the 33 hours it took power to be restored to most of Platteville. If you ever needed a demonstration of how dependent we modern Americans are on electric power, we all got one between late June 16 and the morning of July 18. Not being an expert in electric power generation or transmission, I can’t say, and I doubt many readers can say, with any authority that Alliant could or should have worked faster than Alliant employees did to restore electricity.
A possibly more valid criticism could be over how progress in restoring electricity is communicated to Alliant’s customers. It’s obviously frustrating to be sitting in the dark (wrote the editor who doesn’t usually eat peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and drink lukewarm Coca~Cola for breakfast) not knowing whether your refrigerator or freezer would get power back before they turned into two giant food poisoning factories. On the other hand, again not being experts in power generation, it’s probably difficult to gauge how long restoring power will take. If, say, Alliant says power will be restored in the morning, and unforeseen complications arise, the customers get even more angry.
According to those who officially measure such things, the June 16 tornadoes were the first to actually hit Platteville (though others came awful close, given the stories I’ve heard) since the F2 tornado that grazed the north side Sept. 9, 1970, and before that the F2 tornado that went through Platteville’s south side July 13, 1966. So congratulate yourselves, Platteville readers — you survived history.