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Why You Shouldn’t Rely on Warning Sirens

Tornadoes are one of the most violent and deadly natural disasters on the planet. Iowa, snuggled in right at the top of tornado alley, is no stranger to the destructive vortices. So far it has been an active year with 45 tornadoes across the state. Two more were added to that list after storms this past Thursday.

A concerning number of people have been complaining about the lack of warning sirens in their town on some of our posts. The reason why this is concerning is NOT because these towns do not have/didn’t sound the sirens but because people are relying on tornado sirens as their only warning.

Outdoor Warning Sirens

First off, the tornado sirens are ONLY meant for people outdoors. Again, tornado sirens are meant ONLY FOR PEOPLE OUTDOORS! In fact, sirens are actually called outdoor warning sirens. If you are in a building such as at home or work, it is a necessity that you have a primary mean of receiving warnings. A good practice would be to have a weather radio or some kind of weather app that can give you warnings directly to the palm of your hand.

Even if you are out camping or going for a run, you should have a backup plan in place in case you hear the sirens and need to take shelter. A backup method for receiving warnings is recommended. The sirens will not sound an all clear because you should be indoors monitoring the latest information.

Not all Sirens are Sounded the Same

If you hear a siren going off it means that there is something life-threatening happening and you should go indoors and get more information. Warning sirens aren’t always sounded for just a tornado warning. There is no national guideline put out by the NWS on when to sound the siren but often times emergency managers and local NWS offices will coordinate on such guidelines. Therefore, some counties or cities have different criteria for sounding an alarm.

For example, in our viewing area: Bremer, Butler, Clayton, Grundy, Jones, Keokuk, Tama, and Washington County sound the siren for only tornado warnings.

Benton, Cedar, and Fayette Counties sound the alarm for a tornado warning or a thunderstorm with 70+ mph winds.

Finally, Black Hawk, Chickasaw, Dubuque, Linn, Iowa, Johnson, Allamakee, Buchanan, Delaware, and Winneshiek Counties sound the siren for tornado warnings, thunderstorms with 70+ mph, and/or storms with golf ball size hail or greater.

Straight line winds that fast or hail that large can cause significant threat to life or property. Sirens are typically sounded by an emergency manager or an official with the police or fire department.

Sirens Won’t Alert You to Everything That’s Dangerous.

Nothing replaces common sense. If the sky looks threatening head inside. Non-severe storms can be deadly too: lightning kills many people in the US each year. It is vital that you have a weather radio or weather app nearby to alert you of all potential hazards. The KWWL storm Track 7 weather app will alert you of lightning nearby and of all severe warnings.

Bottom Line

Warning sirens shouldn’t be your main line of defense against severe weather. Technology has made getting alerts easier and quicker via weather radios and weather apps. You shouldn’t rely on tornado sirens because many cities and rural areas don’t have them. This is because of advancing technology and because they are expensive to maintain.

Author Profile Photo

Brandon Libby

Meteorologist

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