Frequent tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings have impacted the Falcon area and Eastern El Paso County this spring. Strong, damaging tornadoes struck Simla in June. Some Falcon residents, who missed the urgent warnings, are asking why the community does not have tornado-warning sirens, common in Tornado Alley country (like some southern states).
Colorado does not have a statewide warning system. Individual cities and counties are responsible for funding and implementing their own alerts for their communities. Simla, which experienced several tornadoes from one strong storm June 4, has a tornado siren. Calhan has one as well. Falcon and most of Colorado Springs are not covered by outdoor audible alerts.
“They are an outdoor warning system, and people have to be educated what the siren means; if they are sounded for different reasons,” said Tom Magnuson, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service Pueblo office, which covers El Paso County. “NOAA All Hazards Weather Radio came to El Paso County around 1980, and can be used to alert the public with both a siren and voice and can be used indoors and outdoors.”
“Tornado sirens are old technology that has been replaced in many parts of the country by cell phones, emails, text messaging and NOAA weather radio,” said Dave Rose, El Paso County public information officer. “Toda,y the broadcasters' Emergency Alert System instantly displays warnings on our TV stations, over our radios; and you can easily sign up for NOAA weather alerts to text your phone as well as 'pass along' text services offered through the TV stations.”
According to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, Falcon has not had a warning siren for at least 20 years, said Baaron Pittenger, deputy public information officer.
“I remember downtown Colorado Springs had one,” said Dodi Lingg, long-time Falcon resident, who said she doesn't remember having tornado or air-raid sirens in the community. “We've always had tornadoes, but out here a long time ago no one knew about it because the cows don't report them.”
“I can endorse the American Red Cross Emergency App for watches, warnings and advisories for smartphones,” Magnuson said. Most cell phones have settings to control what kind of emergency alerts are passed along, based on an individual’s location.
People who choose not to use smartphones or are in areas with poor cell service can purchase inexpensive and lightweight radios that automatically monitor the NWS radio stations for severe weather warnings.
The American Red Cross applications can be found at http://redcross.org/prepare/mobile-apps.
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On May 26, the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners approved the preliminary plan for the first phase of development in Sterling Ranch, which is east of Vollmer Road, north of Woodmen Road and west of Meridian Road.
Andrea Barlow, with N.E.S. Inc., said the BOCC approved the original sketch plan in November 2008 for the entire 1,444-acre property. Of that, 243 acres were rezoned to residential suburban, meaning lot sizes must be a minimum of 5,000 square feet, she said. Within that 243-acre plot, the commissioners approved the preliminary plan for 182 acres, which will include 427 houses, Barlow said.
“We had to take a small chunk of the property out of the preliminary plans because we ran into additional issues that we had to resolve regarding access and easements,” Barlow said. “We’re proposing to submit the preliminary plan for the remaining portion of that 243 acres sometime late this summer, so that the whole area that was rezoned will have the preliminary plan approved.”
Barlow said residents in the area will start seeing grading work on the property toward the end of summer. However, work along the northern boundary of the property, adjacent to Arroya Lane, will likely begin in July in order to place a water tank on the property. “We need that water tank in place before the other construction can begin,” Barlow said. The water lines and sewer lines will also be placed before homes are built, so the initial grading work throughout the approved area will be under way as well, she said.
At the southern end of the property, Barlow said N.E.S. is proposing to build a lift station to bring water up from the Denver Aquifer to service the community throughout the Sterling Ranch Metropolitan District, which means a significant amount of excavation work, starting soon.
Aside from the tank and lift station, plans include two neighborhood parks at 4 acres each and two neighborhood parks at 5 acres each, a 30-acre community park, trails and possibly a few schools, Barlow said. “The boundary between (Academy School) District 20 and (Falcon School) District 49 runs right through the middle of the site,” she said. “So far, we know that the first phase of construction will include an elementary school.” No decision about which district will get that elementary school has been made, Barlow said.
Barlow said work on sorting out where utilities will be going, the grading, sorting out the drainage situation and developing a landscaping plan are ongoing processes. “It’ll be next year before houses start going up, though,” she said.