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Didn't hear tornado sirens during the recent severe weather? This could be why

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Posted at 2:48 PM, Aug 26, 2023

This week's weather has been very active. Intense storms with torrential rainfall impacted much of the area Wednesday evening, causing widespread flooding and wind damage. On Thursday morning, showers cleared for sunshine during the afternoon. That only set the stage for another round of severe weather Thursday night & early Friday morning. Significant damage has been reported across the area, and multiple tornadoes have been confirmed across Northeast Ohio.

Thankfully, there have not been any reports of injuries or deaths in these storms. Having enough warning before severe weather strikes is a critical component to saving lives during severe weather.

One way people receive warnings is tornado sirens. The majority of Ohio counties have a network of outdoor emergency alert sirens to aid in early notification of weather emergencies. They can provide life-saving warnings to Ohioans. However, they are not perfect. I often hear people say, "I did not hear the sirens" or "the sirens were never activated." It made me realize it is important to clarify a few things regarding tornado sirens and how they function during severe weather.

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Storm damage in Warrensville Heights

According to Patrick Saunders from the National Weather Service in Cleveland, it is not the National Weather Service activating the sirens, but rather a local official such as an emergency manager, fire chief, etc. Therefore, the siren policy or criteria varies from county to county. Additionally, some counties activate the sirens for the entire county, while other counties will be sectioned off, and then sometimes individual cities have their own sirens.

That is a lot of variability. It is also very important to remember that sirens are designed to warn people who are outside. They may not always be audible in highly populated cities when you are inside your house or even inside your car. On flat terrain with low wind, most sirens can be heard up to one mile away over normal background noise, so depending on the location of the said siren, it is very possible that not everyone can hear the sirens indoors.

Bottom line, sirens are absolutely a useful and helpful tool in warning us about the threat of severe weather, but they should not be the only way you receive warnings. They can be used in conjunction with a NOAA weather radio (The NWS uses NOAA Weather Radio as its primary means to activate the Emergency Alert System/EAS), phone notifications from wireless emergency alerts and weather apps, social media, and, of course - the Power of 5 Weather Team.

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