Homes/Schools/Businesses-How do you know if a tornado warning has been issued?

The extremely rare tornado outbreak that affected parts of southern Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma on Monday, January 7, 2008, leads to a good question -

How do you know if a tornado warning has been issued for your local area so that you can save your life?

Knowing if a tornado warning has been issued for your local area may be the difference between life and death.  Shouldn’t you know how to find out if a tornado warning has been issued by the National Weather Service (NWS)?  Hard to believe in today’s high-tech world that some people in certain tornado situations didn’t know that tornado warnings had been issued or that there were actual tornadoes in progress in their home county.  Potentially, this can happen in any county or parish in this country. 

There are many ways to acquire information on about tornado warnings or actual tornadoes in progress.  Let’s review them....

1) Have a NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards unit in your home, business, and school.  In countless situations, weather radio has saved lives.  The NWS can tone-activate your weather radio, even in the middle of the night when you are sleeping.  The weather radio is the smoke alarm of the weather world.  Make sure you purchase one that is programmable and has a battery case you lose electrical power.  Most electronic stores sell weather radios.  Can’t think of what to buy someone for a gift? them a weather may save their life!  Weather radios are designed to give you quick, direct, warning information from the NWS.  Information on NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards can be found on this web site - on our main page.

2.  Commercial & public radio and television stations, as well as cable-TV.  There’s a ton of weather information provided by the broadcast media...why not use that resource?  Television can help you "paint the complete picture" in order to figure out if you are in harm’s way.  NOAA Weather Radio can give you a quick alert, but you can use other media outlets to "paint the complete picture."

3. Outdoor sirens.  These are designed to be heard outdoors - hence the word "outdoor."  They may not be heard indoors.  Additionally, lightning, power outages, downburst winds, and the tornado itself may put the outdoor siren out-of-commission.  Know when the outdoor sirens are activated for tests in your local area.  If you do hear the siren in your local area, then head for a sturdy shelter immediately.  During a tornado situation, your County 911 dispatchers will be very busy dispatching other emergency information.  Therefore, you may want to think twice about calling 911 and asking them why the sirens are activated.  You would already know a tornado warning has been issued for your county if you had a NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards unit, had your television or commercial radio on, or used some other kind of electronic device that disseminates alert information.  Needless calls to 911 will increase the dispatchers work load and make it more difficult for them to dispatch information to first responders for other emergencies.

4.  Commercial pagers, beepers, and other electronic devices and computer programs.  An incredible variety of commercial alert devices are available on the market...some at a very low cost or no cost at all.  Ask around - a relative or friend or business associate may know of a device or program, or know of someone who does.  Use your favorite web browser to find on-line companies that sell alert devices.

Being prepared for tornadoes...

Have an emergency plan for your home, school, or business.  Practice never know when you may have to activate that plan.  You may even have a non-weather related emergency on your hands some day.  It is recommened that businesses and schools have some staff members trained as severe weather spotters.  Trained severe weather spotters may be able to help you activate your emergency plan sooner than you would otherwise.  National Weather Service personnel provide free severe weather spotter training each spring, usually in March, April, and early May.  Their class schedules are posted on their web sites.  Classes typically run for 1 to 2 hours. 

The "system" worked on Monday, January 7th....two rare tornadoes in winter in the counties of Walworth and Kenosha, and no fatalities with only 15 people with minor injuries.  How did this happen?  The Milwaukee/Sullivan office issued early tornado warnings.  Severe weather spotters were out and about and relayed storm reports as the tornadoes moved along.  Emergency management officials and other officials had previoiusly worked hard to educate citizens about the dangers of severe weather.  The media painted the picture.  Many citizens responded by seeking a sturdy shelter and/or telephoning relatives or friends along or near the projected path of the tornado.  No one lost their life.  That’s the way it’s supposed to happen.

Refer to an associated Top News of the Day story entitled "Is there such a thing as a tornado-resistant building?"   Both stories will be archived in the Top News Archive on this web site -



Return to News Archive is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.