Do you take a tornado warning seriously?

Four times this week, the National Weather Service in Wilmington, NC issued tornado warnings for Horry County or the surrounding area, based solely on radar detection with no actual tornadoes touching down.

That leads Weather Service officials to have concerns about public complacency, with many people dismissing tornado warnings after so many of them turn out to be false alarms.

Nearly 160 people died in a violent tornado in May, 2001 in Joplin, Missouri. A government study later found that many Joplin residents didn't immediately take shelter, though warnings had been issued and sirens sounded.

Officials say that could be because too often people seek confirmation of a warning by looking for a tornado first instead of immediately seeking shelter.

"When the warning is issued, go to an interior room on the lowest floor of the structure and take shelter, not go to your door or your window and look out, because that's putting yourself at unnecessary risk," said Meteorologist Carl Morgan with the NWS office in Wilmington.

Though Doppler radar detection of tornadoes keeps getting better, Morgan said it is still an inexact science.

Research shows that more than 75 percent of warnings don't result in tornadoes touching the ground. The result can be people who don't take the warnings seriously.

"My granddaughter, for example, just goes about her business and don't pay any attention to them," said Conway resident Joe Brown.

"They call (tornado warnings) out and then they say there's nothing there, so you figure, 'Well, it's never gonna happen,' " added Sandra Deanne of Horry County.

Doppler radar can detect circular rotation in a cloud and sometimes that phenomenon can be seen with the human eye, as with a dark funnel-shaped cloud that several people spotted over Conway on Monday.

That cloud rotation justifies a tornado warning, said NewsChannel 15 Chief Meteorologist Ed Piotrowski, though the funnel cloud may not touch down.

He said it also justifies seeking shelter, every single time.

"So if four out of five times you go to take cover and nothing happens, that's great. If you're there the one time something does happen, it likely will save your life," Piotrowski said.

Morgan said complacency is a battle the Weather Service fights every day and officials are experimenting with different ways to change how people respond to the warnings.

In the meantime, he said people should err on the side of caution and seek a safe place every time a warning is issued.

"In general, we encourage people when they are in a tornado warning, not to go outside and look for the storm or go to the door or to the window," Morgan said.

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