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NOAA Weather Radio or Tornado Warning Siren?

Jan 04, 2011
In this blog post I'm going to discuss why buying a NOAA Weather Radio is important and depending on the tornado warning siren to take shelter is dangerous. On New Year's Eve (12/31/2010) a rare tornado outbreak ravaged the central and southern U.S. killing a total of seven people and injuring scores of others. Tornado fatalities have been happening for decades, but sometimes I wonder if the cause is ignited by individuals failing to own a battery operated NOAA Weather Radio. Of course there are other factors that a tornado can hurt people; taking shelter in a mobile home, out-driving a tornado in a car, or not having access to a basement. However, tornado warning lead time issued from the National Weather Service (NWS) has improved dramatically since the early 1990's thanks to improved Doppler Radar systems. You would think the death toll from tornadoes would be lower, but that's a perception.

NOAA Weather RadioIn my opinion the meteorological community and news media have done a decent job promoting the NOAA Weather Radio. Although, I believe citizens tend to ignore the dangers of not owning such a device. Everyone knows failing to own a smoke detector installed in your home is a hazard. Isn't not having a NOAA Weather Radio a vulnerability as well? What will awake you when there is a tornado secretly at your door step at 2:00 am? I know what you're going to say which is my next point.


Above is an animated gif of a tornado that struck Leighton, Alabama. Security cameras recorded the twister ripping through a parking lot and overturning cars. Imagine the pole in the middle of the animation was a warning siren. If it's taken out by the twister, the siren you depend on is no longer available. This is another reason to have a NOAA Weather Radio for backup.

For decades many rely on the civil defense siren or known as the tornado warning siren. There are a couple of downfalls to this. As more people build property away from cities, these warning sirens have a harder time being heard out in the country. To build a new siren further out in rural areas this can cost taxpayers an enormous amount of money.

What is even more embarrassing is time and time again, these sirens fail when the onset of tornado is occurring in a community. Eagle, Wisconsin (Milwaukee metro) was hit be an EF2 tornado last year causing considerable damage. As the tornado entered the village, the civil defense warning siren failed to sound. During the cleanup efforts, residents were wondering why the siren had failed yet the siren was working fine during it's weekly test a couple of days prior. Another instance was on June 18, 2001. An EF3 tornado struck Siren, Wisconsin killing 3 and injuring nearly 20. Unfortunately at the occurrence of the tornado moving into the village, the tornado siren failed to operate due to a lightning strike.

Civil Defense Siren - Waukesha, WIThe tornado siren today wasn't used strictly for tornadoes 50 years ago. Originally it was developed for air raids during World War II and possible nuclear attack during the cold war. Eventually, it was became known as the "Tornado Warning Siren" to alert citizens of imminent danger. What most don't realize is the siren is only meant to warn residents who are outside; not inside! Yet, owning a NOAA Weather Radio in your home alerts you at instant (similar to a smoke detector) when the NWS issues a Severe Thunderstorm|Tornado Warning. You don't have to go outside and listen for that siren to warn you.

So as we head into the new year, let's recommend to your friends and family to purchase a NOAA Weather Radio to protect themselves when threatening conditions approach. If you do buy one, it may sit idle for most of the year just like your smoke detector. However, when that severe thunderstorm or tornado comes approaching your area, would you just rely on the tornado warning siren to warn you? It's a matter of life and death.

Carrol County, GA Tornado Warning Siren Fails:


Bruce Jones
Jan 6, 2011 - 9:42 am
Excellent points. Outdoor sirens are outdoor warning devices. With today's triple-pane windows and well-insulated homes, you need an "indoor tornado siren", a NOAA Weather Radio. With more than 1,000 transmitters reaching 98% of the US population, NOAA Weather Radio remains the most proven and reliable weather warning system in the world. The service is free, if only people will take it upon themselves to buy a receiver. And because NOAA Weather Radio costs state, county, and city governments nothing, it is not a drain on local budgets and tax dollars. It's fast, reliable and free: direct warnings from "The Voice of the National Weather Service", NOAA Weather Radio. And in Canada, enjoy the same service through Environment Canada's "WeatheRadio" Network.
Jan 6, 2011 - 5:45 pm
Thanks Bruce for sharing your thoughts. Good point about the triple-pane windows and better insulated homes.

Stop by again; Happy New Year!
Jan 24, 2011 - 8:06 am
Thank you for bringing attention to NOAA Weather Radios...having one helps save lives.

Although weather radios are good...if you carry a cell phone you are better off getting sends National Weather Service severe weather alerts direct to subscribers by text message or email for any U.S. city! I receive alerts for 5 different cities where my family lives and where I travel and this service is priceless...I still have my weather radio but find is more convenient.

One example is at my daughters soccer game, no sirens in my town, and no weather radio with me...but I received my iAlert.

Something to consider.
Mar 2, 2011 - 9:32 am
Mark - Thanks for sharing! As we approach the severe wx season this type of service would be very beneficial. I might just look into this. Thanks much for the info!