Warner Robins' Deadly Tornado: 60 Years Later

6:50 AM, May 1, 2013   |    comments
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On April 30th, 1953, a violent tornado tore through Warner Robins.  18 people died in Warner Robins, hundreds were injured by flying bricks and glass. 

The tornado damaged hundreds of buildings from Pleasant Hill Road to Robins Air Force Base, then continued into Twiggs County.

The tornado brought winds estimated at over 200 miles per hour.

Several other smaller tornadoes struck Central Georgia that afternoon.

Central Georgia's deadliest tornado disaster since 1936 seemed to have come out of nowhere. Tornado warnings as we know them today didn't come along until the 1960s. NOAA Weather Radio launched in the 1970s.

The Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service) commissioned Macon's first radar in 1958.  

Today's technology can sense rotating winds within thunderstorms, and even detect tornado debris. National Weather Service forecasters were able to give 22 minutes of lead time during the April 2011 tornado outbreak.

"The alerts are getting better every day," according to Chief James Williams, Houston County's EMA Director.

Smartphones and websites make it easy to find the information. But tornado sirens were one of the first methods - and one that many still rely on.

In 2008, Houston County voters approved a referendum to finance a county-wide alert system. They chose a three-tiered approach: outdoor warning sirens, automated phone alerts and vouchers for NOAA weather radios.

The following year, Houston County installed a network of 33 advanced sirens that can deliver voice messages and warn specific areas. 

Though many can hear sirens inside, they're designed to warm people outdoors.

Chief Williams recommends that people have more than one way to get warnings. NOAA Weather Radios and CodeRED phone alerts can reach people anywhere they go.

People in Houston County are eligible to sign up for the free automatic CodeRED phone calls. The service can send alerts for civil emergencies like missing persons or hazardous material spills in addition to weather warnings. Subscribers can select which kind of warnings they want.

Chief Williams estimates that 25 to 30 percent of Houston County households have signed up for the service.

Violent tornadoes like the one that struck Warner Robins don't happen often in Central Georgia. There have been no F5 tornadoes. The only other F4 besides Warner Robins struck Eatonton in 1992.  But eventually another storm will target the city.

"The destruction is going to be the same, no matter how much warning you get," Chief Williams said. "Hopefully we will be able to lessen the injuries and the fatalities because people can have that warning to take proper action."

In 1950, the population of Warner Robins was about 8,000. Today, almost 70,000 live in the International City according to the latest U.S. Census estimate.

"We try to educate them on preparedness, but you've got to take responsibility for yourself to know what's going on to receive the warnings and take appropriate action to save yourself and your family."

Houston County residents can apply for CodeRED registration and NOAA Weather Radio vouchers.

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