Are tornado sirens the most effective way to alert the public of dangerous weather?

Weather Blog

MARION COUNTY, Ind. – It’s the standard sound we hear before severe weather hits.  The sirens are set off to alert us dangerous conditions are near.

“Mother Nature, in my opinion, is the most powerful force there is. You can’t get away from it,” said Taylor Glenna, a Kokomo tornado victim.

With seconds to spare, Glenna barely made it to cover when the tornado hit Kokomo back in 2013.

“I thought it was coming at me, I mean, I didn’t think it was going to live that day,” said Glenna.

Indiana is in one of the four regions considered a tornado alley.  Researchers even named it after our state, Hoosier Alley.

“In Indiana, we’re no stranger to them,” said Brian Wilkes, FOX 59 Chief Meteorologist.

When the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning, Marion County Emergency Management activates the sirens.

“It is meant to say it’s imminent in your area that there’s a tornado,” said Tom Sellas, commander with Marion County Emergency Management.

The sirens are for everyone’s safety, but specifically designed for those who may be outside, without a phone or any other means of communication.

“We just want to make sure we are reaching everybody,” said Sellas.

There are 171 sirens throughout Marion County. They are all tested weekly.  It cost $70,000 a year for repairs and maintenance.  

For years, it’s been debated if these sirens are the most effective way to alert the public that danger is near.

“You could make a case that the sirens aren’t a good idea because more often than not they draw people outside to say hey what’s going on? When you want people to be inside and in shelter,” said Wilkes.

FOX59’S Chief Meteorologist Brian Wilkes tracks all the weather statistics year after year and knows so far this year, severe weather has been practically silent.

“We went through the entire month of April without a tornado warning issue by the National Weather Service in Indianapolis, that hasn’t happened in an April in seven years. It is suspiciously quiet, and I think what’s going to happen is we are going to flip the switch at some point,” said Wilkes.

Hoosiers need to be ready when that switch is flipped and that means not relying solely on the sirens.

“I’m not saying get rid of the sirens. We need them, but you need to have multiple ways of getting warnings, you cannot say that enough,” said Wilkes.

Make sure you have a weather radio and download reliable apps, like the FOX 59 Weather Authority App that will send weather alerts right to your phone.

“Better to be over prepared than under prepared especially when you’re dealing with tornados,” said Wilkes.

So as technology is constantly evolving, will sirens become a thing of the past?  

“In my lifetime I think they’ll definitely still be here, but as technology gets better, I can see there being other methods other than just the tornado sirens as the primary way to notify people,” said Sellas.

FOX59 crews were there on South Bell Street in 2013 after the tornado hit. There’s now only a fence on the corner lot where Glenna’s home used to be.

“They said it moved 42 feet off the foundation. Our carport was two blocks away. Our shed they never really could find it,” said Glenna.

Glenna remembers hearing the sirens that day and admits he wasn’t too concerned until it was almost too late. Now when severe weather hits, Glenna doesn’t hesitate.  He’s been there. He’s seen it. And he’s felt the unmatched power of Mother Nature.

“It can happen to anyone. I mean I didn’t think it could happen to me, but it did. And thank God we took cover when we did,” said Glenna.

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