How does McPherson Emergency Management know when to set off sirens to warn those outdoors of the possibility of a tornado? Among other things, they rely on reports from those who are looking at the skies.

The public is invited to attend "Storm Fury on the Plains" at 6:30 p.m. March 15 at McPherson Opera House, 219 S. Main St. in McPherson, to learn more about how to identify cloud formations and how they can indicate either sprinkles or severe weather.

"It's an annual presentation that the National Weather Service will provide to each of the local counties that we serve," said Chance Hayes, Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Wichita.

Hayes said "Storm Fury on the Plains" will contain information for those just beginning to learn about weather in Kansas as well as seasoned storm spotters, using interactive online polling, discussion and videos of unusual weather.

"What we want is for people to recognize features in the clouds," Hayes said.

Being able to determine what cloud formations are most likely to be a sign of severe weather can help people make informed decisions when they are traveling. At home, being able to relay accurate weather information from rural areas can be invaluable to those in communication with the public.

"That adds credibility to the warning process because people have actually experienced it," Hayes said. "The feedback is crucial because it helps us to verify exactly what we're seeing on the radar."

Hayes will also cover the usage of free apps that use geolocations services and radar, which can give users information about where they are in relation to a storm.

Knowing what radar signatures look like when hail, heavy rain or tornadic activity is present, can give individuals extra time to react and take shelter at home or on the road.

"Maybe if they recognize the feature on radar, they'll realize that it's stronger than what it looks like and won't drive into it," Hayes said.

McPherson Emergency Management and Communications Director, Julie McClure, said people should know the difference between clouds that look scary and those that actually portend severe weather, as well as what should be reported and what to leave to trained storm spotters.

McPherson Emergency Management and 911 Communications takes in information from multiple sources and sends out their own reports when severe weather strikes.

"We monitor the radar; we monitor the National Weather Service chat room to see what they and the media are talking about and getting reports of," McClure said.

All those details aid in the department making the decision about when to set off storm sirens.

"We don't just set them off because storms are predicted," McClure said.

With incoming reports from spotters, sirens can be sounded in the area of the county affected by the storms.

McClure noted storm sirens are only intended to warn those who are outdoors and may not be audible when people are indoors.

"I would encourage everybody to get a weather radio," McClure said.

"Storm Fury on the Plains" will be held at McPherson Opera House since its usual venue, the community building, is undergoing renovations.

"I encourage everybody to come out and enjoy the presentation," Hayes said. "People should not at all think it's only for storm spotters — it's for anyone."

Contact Patricia Middleton by email at or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.