The Woodward News

July 31, 2013

Lightning hits several storm sirens

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — Several outdoor warning sirens in Woodward were damaged by lightning from a line of storms that swept through Northwest Oklahoma on Monday night.

“At least 3 have been damaged that we know of so far,” said Matt Lehenbauer, director of Woodward County Emergency Management.

These 3 warning sirens, which are also commonly referred to as tornado sirens, were located at 34th St. and Downs Ave., Lakeview Dr. and Downs Ave. and 48th St. and Hanks Trail.

At each siren, Lehenbauer said “the control boards were burned up, likely as the result of the heavy lightning associated with the storm.”

He said the control boards had blackened areas and scorch marks “which you see when higher voltages come through.”

As a result of this damage, the siren at 48th St. and Hanks Trail was activated for a while and did sound until it could be manually deactivated, Lehenbauer said.

He explained that this activation was due to a safety protocol within the siren's design.

“The sirens have by design an error code that if it senses that the siren is being destroyed, they will activate themselves as part of a safety measure,” he said.

Until the shorted-out control boards can be replaced, the 3 damaged sirens will be out of commission.

But Lehenbauer said that the city's current siren system was designed so that “if one siren fails, there are other nearby sirens that can serve as backups. The public should still be able to hear the other ones (if outside), they just won't be as loud.”

The emergency manager also said that the 3 sirens should be repaired soon.

“We were scheduled to have a company come do upgrades to 3 other sirens in August. So when they come in to do those, we'll have them go ahead and replace the control boards on these sirens as well,” he said.

Since the sirens are tall metal structures, Lehenbauer said they are often “prone to lightning strikes.”

Knowing this, he said that certain lightning protection measures are installed to help minimize damage from lightning storms.

“But when it's a direct hit, there's not much you can do,” he said.

In addition to damaging storm sirens, Lehenbauer said lightning from Monday night's storm also sparked a couple of tree fires and utility pole fires “mostly in the southern part of the county where the most intense lightning was.”

A number of electrical transformers were also hit, which led to “a lot of power outages,” he said.

Within Woodward, most of the outages were located in 2 areas: 1) the western part of city between Oklahoma Ave. and Hanks Trail between 22nd St. and 48th St. and 2) the eastern part of the city between 1st St. and 9th St. between Oklahoma Ave. and Downs Ave.

“There were other sporadic outages in other areas as well, but they were more isolated incidents,” Lehenbauer said.

Lehenbauer said Monday's storm was “one of the most intense lightning storms that we've seen in this area in a while.”

He said it is not really known why some storms produce more lightning than others.

“Lightning is still a big unknown in meteorological study,” he said. “But some factors that are believed to play into lightning storms is all the convection within the storm along with heat and humidity. For some reason, higher humidity seems to lead to more lightning. But really we don't understand why some storms have a tremendous amount of lightning and others have almost none.”

However, lightning wasn't the only thing that was abundant with Monday's storm. It also dropped quite a bit of rain in certain areas in the county.

While the Oklahoma Mesonet site near Woodward only measured around .8 to .9 inches of rain, there were reports of 4-inches and more falling near Mooreland, Lehenbauer said.

And according 24-hour rainfall total map on the Oklahoma Mesonet website, much of Woodward County and the surrounding counties received at least an inch of rain. The map also shows areas of Ellis County that received 6 inches of rain or more.

The emergency manager said that the reason some locations received a lot more rain than others is because “there were heavy cells that were, what we call, 'training,' meaning that one kept forming right after another. So one of these cells would pass over an area and then other storm cells would form right behind them. And when you have several different storm cells passing over the same area like that, you get higher rainfall totals.”

Lehenbauer said he heard reports of Monday's heavy rainfall causing flooding on several roadways, including “reports where the water was up over the curbs.”

Photos taken by Travis Barnard of Mooreland showed even more substantial flooding at the Mooreland Town Park, where he estimated the water was up to 5-feet deep in spots as it washed up over picnic pavilions and a gazebo and playground structures.

Barnard took the photos while he was out for over 3 hours with his father, who is the Mooreland town foreman, helping to restore electrical power to Mooreland residents who experienced outages.

He said most of the water had receded by Tuesday, but had left quite a bit of debris in its wake.

Lehenbauer said that even the inch or so of rain that Woodward received on Monday was enough to put the city ahead of rainfall totals for the past couple of years.

“We have now passed the total amount of rainfall that we received in 2011 and we have exceeded the amount of rainfall that we had at this same point in time last year,” he said.

The latest rainfall also brings Woodward to about 60 percent of our normal annual rainfall average, he said.

“The average in Woodward County is about 25 inches a year and we're at just over 15 inches right now after (Monday) night's storm,” he said.

Because of this the emergency manager said he expects “to see some drought relief on the next drought update report.”