An Interview with Janet Thompson of Cookeville, Tennessee
Cookeville, Tennessee resident, Janet Thompson, woke up to the sound of her Midland WR120 NOAA Weather Alert Radio about an hour before the devastating Super Tuesday tornado hit her town. “I was actually mad at Midland for waking me up,” said Thompson. “I turned it off and nestled back in and it went off again and again…the longer you listened, the more it’s like wow, this thing’s coming in. You knew it was bad.”
The EF-4 tornado ravaged the town of Cookeville and the surrounding areas in the early hours of March 3rd, 2020, killing 25 people and damaging 700-900 structures. The community is now working through clearing rubble, helping neighbors in need, and mourning the loss of its citizens.
Thompson, a home health therapist, says she was lucky to have her radio set to the Nashville station, as well as her own county. The storm hit there first, so she had plenty of time to get up, warn her friends on Facebook, and take cover with her son.
“For my personal comfort, I do not want to limit it to counties,” says Thompson. Cell phone towers were down, and many Putnam County residents were not woken up in enough time to take shelter. “People had seconds, if any warning, on their cell phones.” Now Thompson is urging friends and family members to get a weather radio. “It’s been a wake-up call,” says Thompson.
2020 Tornadoes & Nocturnal Tornadoes
This spring has already seen many tornadoes, particularly in the southern states, and meteorologists are noting a disturbing trend – the consistency of nocturnal tornadoes. These tornadoes can be extremely dangerous, as they strike suddenly when you are sleeping, leaving you with little warning and little time to take shelter. According to NBC News, nocturnal tornadoes are more than twice as likely to be fatal.
The Cookeville tornado struck around 2:00 AM. Thompson had no previous warning. Like many other Americans, she does not watch her local news channels—preferring to use mostly streaming services instead. According to a Leichtman Research Group study, 74% of American households subscribe to a streaming service, and 69% pay for more than one. With the rise of streaming platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Disney+, fewer people are getting weather alerts through television.
NOAA Weather Alert Radios vs. TV Weather Alerts
The alarm from Midland’s NOAA weather alert radio can & should cut through the noise of your television, whether you are watching a movie or playing video games. Thompson told us her son Caleb thought the weather radio was too loud and made him anxious. “That’s the point,” Thompson told her son. “It’s supposed to be annoying.”
Thompson says she does not keep her weather radio next to her bed, because it is too easy to quickly turn off. That is also a danger with cell phones. They are easy to mute when you just want to get back to sleep. “I’m a really good sleeper,” says Thompson. “My Midland [weather radio] is three rooms away. It wakes me up every time.”
Thompson noted that many in her town wondered why they were not woken up by tornado sirens. According to the Weather.gov website, these sirens are meant to alert those who are already outside and are not designed to wake up those indoors, especially during sleep. “My weather radio went off almost a full hour before our tornado siren did,” says Thompson. “I could hear the tornado siren that night but it was so faint. It would have never woken me up.”
Share NOAA Weather Alert Radios with Friends & Loved Ones
Thompson has urged many people to purchase a Midland weather radio on the Facebook page, “Cookeville Strong”, which has amassed 26,519 members. On this page, residents can post updates on medical conditions caused by the tornado, offer relief to other community members, and even post pictures of jewelry and old photographs found among the wreckage so they can be returned to their rightful owners. It is evident through this page that this community has come together in the face of such tragedy.
Being in the medical field, Thompson worries about her patients. Many of them are elderly. One is currently living in a hotel room. Thompson has given out Midland weather radios to as many of her high-risk patients she can.
Upon hearing about Thompson’s story, long-time Meteorologist Bruce Jones said, “Janet epitomizes what it means to be “Weather-Ready”. Living in America, with the most dangerous weather on the planet, we all need to learn from her; get a weather radio for your home. That way, whether you are paying attention or not, whether you’re sleeping, or whether your kids are home alone, your family is immediately and automatically alerted. Weather radios save lives.”
Unfortunately, tornado season is not behind us yet. When Thompson was asked what she would say to the people affected by the Easter Sunday tornadoes that killed over 30 people in Mississippi, she said, “My heart goes out to them…please get a weather radio.”
Click on the following link to purchase your own WR120 NOAA Weather Alert Radio. If you already have a weather alert radio, Midland encourages you to make sure it is programmed properly. You can do so by watching these videos or by calling customer service at 816-241-8500.