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I came across this graphic on social media today:

Tornado siren poster

I decided to comment on the subject as I’ve heard folks express – even here in Virginia – a desire to have more sirens around to warn of tornados.

(1) As stated in the first bullet in the graphic sirens are designed to warn folks who are already outdoors. Civil Defense sirens (originally built and fielded to warn of impending nuclear war) were first used for tornado warnings in the early 1970s when outdoor warnings were likely useful…but now? With most folks indoors and air conditioners, televisions, and/or iPods blasting away? Don’t think so.

(2) The second and third bullets illustrate another serious limitation of sirens: they don’t provide a lot of information. Assuming folks can even hear the sirens they still need to consult other sources of information to find out what the threat is and then decide how to respond. That takes precious time.

(3) The final bullet is the kicker: the sirens are NOT sounded by the National Weather Service. Each individual city or county is responsible for “pushing the button”, and there are widely varying criteria for when to do so…and not all of them have to do with tornado warnings.

So what’s the answer to those who still think sirens are a viable emergency alert system? How about the fact that we have 21st century technology available to warn us instead of 1950’s era equipment? Between local TV and radio stations (broadcast and live streaming), weather radios, smartphone apps, and emergency messaging systems there are a myriad of ways to get specific warnings for any given location.

Let tornado sirens fade quietly into the dustbins of history.

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