Storm sirens: deployed too quickly?

400px-Tornado_siren,_Pesotum_2 Last night’s storms by-passed Northfield once again. (The boys of KYMN joke that we’re protected by a high-pressure bubble whenever storms head our way.) When the sirens went off at about 5:30 pm, many people on Bridge Square for the Taste of Northfield headed for shelter in nearby stores or the Armory.

But just as many looked at the sky and could tell that nothing was imminent and just hung around and socialized. People like me. The tornado sirens ended after about 5 minutes, we got a few drops of rain, and that was it.

I don’t understand the decision-making process and the chain of command for when local sirens are deployed.  There’s no information about it on the City of Northfield’s emergency information page.

But it seems to me that the sirens too often are deployed too quickly, thereby teaching the public to not take them seriously because 99 times out of a hundred, nothing severe happens.

Or am I wrong?

116 comments to  (Including 21 Discussion Threads) Storm sirens: deployed too quickly?

  • 51

    In Red Wing, 18 of 26 sirens DIDN’T WORK! There weren’t enough functioning to get a dog howling. I would think a quick draw would be better than too slow in Northfield, considering the damage over the years, the turkey barns went down what, twice in three years?
    http://www.republican-eagle.com/event/article/id/67827/group/News/

  • 52
    Griff Wigley says:

    Here we go again:

    BULLETIN -- IMMEDIATE BROADCAST REQUESTED
    SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING
    NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TWIN CITIES/CHANHASSEN MN
    1220 AM CDT SAT JUL 24 2010

    THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN THE TWIN CITIES HAS ISSUED A

    * SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING FOR…
    LE SUEUR COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…
    WESTERN RICE COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…
    NORTHERN WASECA COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…

    * UNTIL 1245 AM CDT

    * AT 1216 AM CDT…RADAR INDICATED A LINE OF SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS…
    CAPABLE OF PRODUCING DAMAGING WINDS IN EXCESS OF 60 MPH. THESE
    STORMS WERE LOCATED ALONG A LINE EXTENDING FROM 12 MILES WEST OF ST
    THOMAS TO 8 MILES SOUTHWEST OF CLEVELAND TO 19 MILES SOUTHWEST OF
    JANESVILLE TO 22 MILES SOUTHWEST OF JANESVILLE…AND MOVING EAST AT
    55 MPH.

    LOCATIONS IN THE WARNING INCLUDE…
    WASECA…
    CLEVELAND…
    ST HENRY…
    LE CENTER…
    JANESVILLE…
    ELYSIAN…
    WATERVILLE…
    KILKENNY…
    MONTGOMERY…
    MORRISTOWN…
    ST THOMAS…
    GREENLAND…

    ============
    BULLETIN -- IMMEDIATE BROADCAST REQUESTED
    SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING
    NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TWIN CITIES/CHANHASSEN MN
    1258 AM CDT SAT JUL 24 2010

    THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN THE TWIN CITIES HAS ISSUED A

    * SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING FOR…
    SOUTHERN DAKOTA COUNTY IN EAST CENTRAL MINNESOTA…
    WESTERN GOODHUE COUNTY IN SOUTHEAST MINNESOTA…
    EASTERN RICE COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…

    * UNTIL 200 AM CDT

    * AT 1256 AM CDT…RADAR INDICATED A LINE OF SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS…
    CAPABLE OF PRODUCING DAMAGING WINDS IN EXCESS OF 60 MPH. THESE
    STORMS WERE LOCATED ALONG A LINE EXTENDING FROM 12 MILES WEST OF
    CASTLE ROCK TO 3 MILES SOUTH OF NORTHFIELD TO 10 MILES SOUTHWEST OF
    NERSTRAND…AND MOVING EAST AT 50 MPH.

    LOCATIONS IN THE WARNING INCLUDE…
    NORTHFIELD…
    NERSTRAND…
    DENNISON…
    KENYON…
    STANTON…
    CASTLE ROCK…
    RANDOLPH…
    WASTEDO…
    CANNON FALLS…
    HADER…
    WANAMINGO…

    ==============

    SEVERE WEATHER STATEMENT
    NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TWIN CITIES/CHANHASSEN MN
    110 AM CDT SAT JUL 24 2010
    DAKOTA MN-GOODHUE MN-RICE MN-
    110 AM CDT SAT JUL 24 2010

    …A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR NORTHEASTERN
    RICE…WESTERN GOODHUE AND SOUTHERN DAKOTA COUNTIES UNTIL 200 AM
    CDT…

    AT 109 AM CDT…NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE RADAR INDICATED A LINE OF
    SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS CAPABLE OF PRODUCING DAMAGING WINDS IN EXCESS OF
    60 MPH. THESE STORMS WERE LOCATED ALONG A LINE EXTENDING FROM CASTLE
    ROCK TO STANTON TO KENYON…MOVING EAST AT 50 MPH.

    LOCATIONS IMPACTED INCLUDE…
    RANDOLPH…BOMBAY…WASTEDO…CANNON FALLS…HADER…WANAMINGO…
    HAMPTON…NEW TRIER…VERMILLION…ZUMBROTA AND MIESVILLE.

  • 53
    Griff Wigley says:

    That was an amazing storm last night (early this morning). As soon as I walked into the GBM, I got the question "Why didn’t the sirens sound?" from two people.  After all, they argued, the police chief’s statement about sirens says:

    If high winds are reported – typically exceeding the severe thunderstorm warning threshold of 58 MPH or greater the sirens may be activated.

    Straight-line winds were definitely in the severe range. Paul Douglas reported not long after midnight:

    NWS Doppler last night around midnight, as severe storms rumbled across southern Minnesota. The boomerang-shaped kink in the line evidence of a "bow echo", strong straight-line winds causing the squall line to bulge in the direction of motion, evidence of 50-70 mph wind gusts. Hail estimates ranged from .5 to 2.5" diameter, with the biggest hail spotted near Le Sueur.

    I reminded them that the the police chief’s statement about sirens also says:

    First of all, sirens are only meant to be heard outdoors where people may not have access to media outlets such as TV, radio and NOAA weather radios.

    If people are indoors, they need to rely on those media sources to get information about the current situation be it weather or some other emergency. The sirens indicate that something is happening that the public needs to be aware of. It is the public’s responsibility to find out what action they need to take.

    They were unimpressed with this logic. "But if we’re in bed sleeping, how are we supposed to know? We rely on the sirens to wake us up."

    Answer: get a weather radio.

  • 54
    David Koenig says:

    Funny thing was that my email alerts didn’t arrive with this storm either, but there was a severe thunderstorm warning, which usually generates a flurry of emails. Sometimes I wake because there are several beeps from my phone that an email has arrived.

    I wonder if there was some communication problem as that was one amazing storm and the bow was pointed right at Northfield when it hit.

  • 55
    Jane Moline says:

    Gus was outside last night and got pounded by the wind and drenched by heavy blowing rain and then nailed by hail. He and a friend were walking in central park and headed for downtown when the wind picked up--they were drenched and could have been injured by the hail--luckily they were not. No sirens.

    Right on Griff--we need the sirens to sound when our TV is off and we are all asleep--or when our kids are outside even if we are not.

    Obviously we now have one where they went off without need and another where they should have sounded and didn’t.

    There was substantial damage from the winds with trees down, street lights down. In one case a tree on a house. We lost a bunch of big branches here on the farm, and there was a tree blocking half the road on 2nd street in Dundas.

  • 56
    Josh Dale says:

    I live on the north-east corner of St. Olaf property, off Highland Ave. The power went out shortly after 1am. No power=no warnings, other than a lightning strike, blown transformers or downed power lines…it was a good several minutes after the power went out that it started hailing and huge branches started ripping off trees in the area. A large part of a tree landed on two cars parked on the roadway of Highland Ave in front of my home. I’m sure many of you are now aware of the significant tree damage around town, especially on the north side. Luckily no one that I’ve heard has been injured by any debris last night, but the possibilities are always there. We can’t all be expected to rely on media sources for weather warnings. Sirens are quite necessary. If I get woken up at 2am by sirens, I am thankful for the chance to seek shelter if necessary instead of waking up to my family, friends or myself in danger.

  • 57
    Griff Wigley says:

    Jane/Josh, thanks for the reports. I’ve blogged your comments with some photos at:
    http://locallygrownnorthfield.org/post/18720/

  • 58
  • 59
    Griff Wigley says:

    Did the sirens sound for this afternoon’s thunderstorm? How about for the big storm on Sat. July 23 that did all the damage to trees and power lines?

  • 60
    Steve Wilmot says:

    Did anyone else hear the sirens last night? I was surprised to hear them around 2:45am. They woke me up, but I never did see a NWS listing showing imminent danger for Northfield, only western Rice County which didn’t seem to make it here.

    • 60.1

      Woke me up too. Thought it very strange. Sue

    • 60.2
      kiffi summa says:

      Steve: I was also surprised to hear them and especially when it was so quiet outside, but within a few minutes the sounds of distant thunder started and then of course we did have a quick fast storm… but certainly nothing like many in the past.

      However, when the sirens went off, I went downstairs and looked at the Dundas weather site on the computer and it showed a huge area of severe thunderstorms developing and growing all over most of the western side of the state, and there was a notice on that site of a severe thunderstorm warning by the weather bureau.

      I forget between times of hearing the sirens what specifically triggers them… and if there’s an all-clear. etc…

  • 61

    I heard the sirens as well, and immediately went downstairs and pulled up the weather radar. It was very calm and very little wind at 2:45 AM.

    The radar showed that the warning area was bordered by I-35 on the eastern boundary. The storm was centered over Le Sueur, with 65+ MPH winds, and 1.5 inch hail. At the time that I heard the sirens in the distance, the storm was over an hour from Northfield, (according to the projected storm tracks) but we were in the eventual path.

    The storm eventually weakened slightly, and went more toward the Castle Rock / Randdolf area, but we did see some significant lightning from the southern edge of the cell. Remarkably, this cell was very slow moving.

    Here is the radar map I use. Enjoy!
    http://www.wunderground.com/cgi-bin/findweather/getForecast?brand=wxmap&query=55057

    -J

  • 62
    kiffi summa says:

    Reports today state that the dispatcher ( I assume this was at the Pearl Street dispatch center) entered the incorrect numerical code … one that was supposed to call for firefighters, but instead set off the weather alert sirens..

    Does this mean the firefighters were NOT called because of the incorrect code? it would seem so.

    Does this mean that numerical codes are a bad idea, and a code should only be a voice activated command/request? it would seem so.

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