Storm Ready: Tornado sirens help warn citizens
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Tornado sirens are not mandated by the government or even the National Weather Service.
"People always ask, 'Why don’t we have tornado sirens?' But it's every city, every county, they’ll have their reasons as to why and why not," National Weather Service spokesperson Paul Yura said.
Four years after the deadly Waco tornado of 1953, the city decided they were necessary.
"It's exactly what it says. It's an outdoor warning siren system. In other words, it's designed, if you’re outside, to get your attention, to seek shelter," Waco emergency management spokesperson Frank Patterson said.
The costly investment has already proven its worth.
"Several years ago, we had several tornadoes come through our county, which required us to actually use the outdoor warning system. It was on a Friday night, [there were] football games [and we thought] how are you going to notify them? So, we sounded off the outdoor warning sirens, and that cleared the stadium. It got people out of the weather," Paterson said.
Our own meteorologist Maureen McCann and photojournalist Roy Kuntz continue sharing what they learn about storms with VORTEX2, the largest mobile tornado research project ever. Catch the play-by-play by following Maureen on Twitter and check out the Storm Ready Road Blog for more.
The City of Waco is one of the few cities in Central Texas that has such a system. However, tornado sirens are found on many college campuses, like Texas State University.
Despite the frequency of severe weather in Central Texas, the alarms are only sounded when the warnings are absolutely imminent.
"Here at Texas State, I'm a sophomore [in my] second semester. I've never heard a tornado siren on campus," student Robert Elsea said.
Besides Texas State, the University of Texas at Austin and Baylor University both have outdoor warning systems.
“Our intent really is to hit the campus. Our target audience is those faculty, staff, students, visitors that are outside,” University of Texas spokesperson David Cronk said.
The sirens themselves aren't a guaranteed way to save lives. It's up to those who hear them, to acknowledge the sound and take the warning seriously.
"Technology has been wonderful in getting warnings to people. The unfortunate part is that there’s still the human aspect, of people making wrong decisions. Technology won't save that. It won’t solve that problem; it still comes down to a human factor," Yura said.
In the end, it's up to you to decide to be “Storm Ready.”
Forecasters say the best way to be "Storm Ready" is to have a weather radio, where you'll get the warnings issued first.