Meteorologist Says Rely On Broadcasters, Smartphones For Weather Alerts, Not Sirens

June 12, 2018
Debris in Urbana leftover from a severe storm that produced two tornadoes in south and west Champaign on Sunday June 10.

Debris in Urbana leftover from a severe storm that produced two tornadoes in south and west Champaign on Sunday June 10.

Daniel Baker/Illinois Public Media

Two tornadoes with winds up to 85 miles an hour briefly touched down in Champaign on Sunday around 2 p.m. While no one was hurt, it only took the two tornadoes about a minute to damage a number of homes in the Champaign area, knocking out the power to many more. 

However, a city of Champaign press release said the city’s tornado sirens were never activated because the National Weather Service and the Champaign County Emergency Management Agency could not confirm the twisters at the time.

Professor Jeff Frame is with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Department of Atmospheric Sciences. Speaking on the 21st show on Tuesday, the meteorologist said outdoor warning sirens can be confusing for those unfamiliar with when and why they are sounded. 

“The criteria for sounding those sirens varies from community to community," said Frame. 

For example, he said Champaign only sounds its sirens if emergency management officials in control get visual confirmation of a tornado threatening the city. He said Bloomington operates similarly, but will also activate its sirens if officials believe 70 mile an hour straight-line wind gusts threaten the city. 

He said outdoor warning sirens are only used to alert those outside and they date back to the cold war. 

“Those of our older listeners remember atomic bomb drills and those same sirens would go off, and if we were under threat of nuclear war, those same sirens would go off for that," said Frame. 

Frame said outdoor weather sirens are old and unreliable compared to today’s technology. He said people indoors should rely on smartphones and social media as well as local television and radio instead of weather sirens to receive storm alerts. 

Story source: WILL