Severe storm creates flurry and confusion on campus

| Senior News Editor
Matt Mitgang | Student Life

A tree blocks the eastbound lane of Forsyth Boulevard after high winds knocked it over Saturday.

Sirens split through the air on Saturday afternoon, alerting students to a possible incoming tornado. Though the tornado didn’t touch down on campus, the weather took a turn for the unusual.

The tornado alarms went off on campus at around 4:10 p.m., following the warning issued by the national weather service by about 10 minutes. St. Louis’ sirens went off around 10 minutes later. The warning passed at 5:15 p.m.

Even though the sirens went off, Washington University’s emergency messaging systems were not used. The University sent out neither text messages nor e-mails about the tornado warning. They also failed to update the emergency.wustl.edu website.

The University could not be reached for comment.

“That was certainly a severe weather situation that would warrant an e-mail or text message,” said sophomore Zach Gietl, a National Weather Service trained spotter. “Especially because a lot of our students don’t come from the Midwest, [and] they’re not trained with what to do in case a tornado occurs.”

As a trained spotter, Gietl knows what to look for in tornadoes and how to be around them. He also pays close attention to the National Weather Service.

For students on main campus, there was direction about what to do.

“[I was] in the library. They told us to go down to the basement. They knew how to handle it. There was still a bit of confusion in other buildings about what to do,” senior Ryan McLaughlin said.

In the dorms, RAs were the most helpful in informing people to get to the lower levels, students said.

“I was taking a nap, and I heard those sirens, so I was pretty confused. Our RAs were on the floor, so they could tell us what to do,” said Sadie Smeck, a freshman. “It was unusual for me because I had never seen weather that severe, but I didn’t feel that I was unsafe.”

Students were rushed inside and to the bottoms of whatever buildings they were in. People enjoying the ThurtenE Carnival were forced inside.

The tornado did not actually touch down at the University, but by the West County Mall. University City also witnessed hail. The University saw only heavy rain and strong wind.

“There was one moment when we looked outside and you could hardly see past the rain, and then everyone sort of freaked out,” sophomore Bailey Davidson said. “But we also didn’t do anything…I’m not from somewhere where there are tornadoes, so I didn’t think it was a big deal until I talked to people later.”

Though a few trees came down on Forsyth, for the most part there was minimal damage and no injuries.

“The rainbow afterwards was reassurance that everything was OK,” freshman Camille Young said.

  • anonymous

    I spent the first 2/3 of the tornado warning sitting on the top floor of my dorm, complaining about the noise outside that was making it hard to study (I’m from the Northeast and had never heard a tornado siren before). It wasn’t until I logged onto Facebook and saw statuses about a tornado that I knew what was going on. I had been told that in an emergency I’d receive a text message or e-mail informing me of what was going on and expected ResLife to be more active in getting people to a safe place; it’s ridiculous that instead I was informed, half an hour too late, about it on Facebook.

  • Ariel Cascio

    I am from somewhere where there are tornadoes, so I felt comfortable remaining on the first floor of the village and watching out the big glass windows.

    The chances of a tornado touching down on the quad are so low it’s laughable.

    However, since I am from the Midwest I figured that the absence of RAs and RCDs running around herding students into the basement and carrying radios to await the all-clear was a sign that the warning was not serious in our area. Since students DO seem to have had some direction in the library, according to this article, perhaps I was sadly mistaken. Perhaps I put too much faith in the residential life staff. What are the procedures for a tornado? In rural Illinois, the fire alarms in the building also played tornado alarms (long sirens means “fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiire,” short staccato sirens mean “tor.na.do. tor.na.do”). Is St. Louis too far removed from the tornado belt for this procedure? Are we limited to outdoor sirens, and expected to figure it out through the knowledge coastal students could have gained from television or common sense (head to the basement and avoid glass windows)?

    Given that the outdoor sirens were sounding, some information from the university would have been helpful, even if it was “we aren’t worried yet but be on the alert.”

    Ariel Cascio
    Graduated, but was visiting for the Reunion

  • anonymous

    I think it’s absolutely pathetic that the University failed to send out a text or update the website. What’s the purpose of having those systems in place if they aren’t used correctly?