In modern day life, there are multiple ways of getting special or urgent messages about severe weather: online, on broadcast outlets like radio and TV stations, through apps, tablets, and computers, and via TXT alerts on cell phones. But as communication technology gets more sophisticated, there’s also people being left behind that aren’t adopting to the latest tech. For reasons of finances, faith, or simply personal choice, there are those being disconnected from our wired and wireless worlds unable to know what’s what with approaching severe weather. With that challenge, meteorologists and emergency management officials are getting very creative in connecting urgent messages with people that otherwise wouldn’t get them.
Paducah, Kentucky National Weather Service meteorologist Derick Snyder is on one such team of communication experts getting creative with connecting to the disconnected. A member of a Weather Awareness for a Rural Nation (WARN) committee, Snyder is part of a five member task force exploring ways to enhance the weather understanding and awareness of communities that might not have access to scientific data and communication technology often taken for granted in the 21st century.
During the late evening of Friday, December 10, 2021, a violent, long-tracked tornado moved across Western Kentucky, producing severe to catastrophic damage in numerous towns, including Mayfield, Princeton, Dawson Springs, and Bremen. At the time, it was the deadliest tornado in U.S. history for the month of December, and the 9th longest tornado on record, covering 165.7 miles with estimated peak winds of 190 mph.
In post-storm analysis, Snyder learned that among the dead was an Amish family living in a converted manufactured home with no electricity. Without electricity, they never knew the dangers that were about to impact their community. Despite the accurate forecasts and watches and warnings that were issued before the deadly attack by Mother Nature, people like that Amish family are oblivious to the hazards around them. And this is a problem that WARN is attempting to solve.
While not limited to serving the Amish and similar societies, the WARN task force takes into consideration the cultural aspects of those groups that avoid the use of modern technology, yet can still benefit from the advancements of meteorological forecasts and warnings to better protect themselves during severe weather. Joining Snyder on this task force are four other members: Jane Marie Wix from the Jackson, Kentucky office of the National Weather Service, Tony Edwards from the Charleston, West Virginia National Weather Service Office, and Jason York and Joe Sullivan from the Kentucky Emergency Management Office. Snyder tells is that the task force has also partnered with other organizations such as the University of Kentucky Agricultural Extension Service and Midland Radio.
And while the Amish are a large focus of their outreach efforts, this WARN task force wants to connect all “off the grid” communities and with state-of-the-science weather warnings and awareness, to ensure protection of their lives and property.
“We have worked with other NWS (National Weather Service) offices in states with large Amish populations, including NWS State College, Pennsylvania, to learn how they approach weather safety with the Amish communities who live in their areas,” Snyder said. “Additionally, several members of our task force attended a conference about weather safety and the Amish this summer that was hosted in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. From these interactions we’ve learned a lot about the Amish way of life and how best to engage them. It’s all about building one-on-one relationships and creating trust. No two Amish communities are the same, each having its own rules and restrictions. What may go over well in one community may not in the next. From our efforts we have developed a toolkit for anyone interested in working with the Amish and off-grid communities. Our vision is for this toolkit to hold a repository of information that any office can utilize to aid in their efforts of working with the Amish. But more so, we hope this starts the dialogue and ignites the effort to work with this historically underserved population.”
The Amish don’t have electricity in their homes and they don’t allow the use of any modern tech, even something as basic as an AM/FM radio to the rest of the population. To work around that challenge, WARN worked with weather radio manufacturer Midland which agreed to manufacture a special weather radio that would be compatible with the Amish way of life: it won’t receive AM/FM radio signals, it’s solar-powered with a hand-crank, and it will only receive weather radio broadcasts. The Amish-friendly weather radio costs about $30 each.
Self-proclaimed “Digital Nomads” Beth and Court that create content for their YouTube Channel got wind of WARN’s efforts. Days ago, they used social media to attempt to raise $750 to purchase special weather radios for families like the Amish who normally wouldn’t have them. As of today, their fundraising efforts have raised more than $1,650 and they continue to raise more money today.
“We know there are thousands of Amish communities across the country, as well as significant numbers of similar communities , such as Old Order Mennonite, Brethren, etcetera…in addition to people that prefer to live off-grid,” Snyder said. He adds, “.While we’re tremendously grateful for the fundraising support we’ve gotten so far, we know that it will not be enough to buy weather radios for every household in these communities that needs one. Our goal is to use these funds to purchase and distribute the weather radios to a few families in each Amish or off-grid community in Kentucky. Once word starts to spread about how useful they are, our hope is people will order the radios from Midland. To promote the radios and weather safety in general, we’ve partnered with The Budget which is a weekly nationwide newspaper that serves these communities with a distribution of 50,000. The publisher of The Budget has agreed to let us advertise these weather radios for free once they are available for purchase. We also publish a monthly weather safety column in The Budget and in a monthly University of Kentucky Agricultural Extension Service newsletter that many Amish families receive in the mail.”
Midland is also providing a discount on the radios for bulk orders from the WARN task force and other emergency services organizations such as emergency managers across the country.
Snyder says they’ve also applied for a grant to help purchase additional weather radios to distribute. “Beyond the radios, we hope to promote a culture of weather safety and preparedness for all kinds of hazardous weather.”