Two tornadoes, one problem: Why sirens remained silent

Tornado damage at the Goodwill in Portland. (June 24, 2015)

KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) – Like the tornado that hit Portland last month, the twister that hit Wyoming and Kentwood one year ago spun up too quickly for sirens to sound.

Both twisters developed so fast that the National Weather Service didn’t have enough time to issue a tornado warning, which often signals sirens.

And as Storm Team 8’s Ellen Bacca found out, there are other reasons Michiganders should not solely rely on sirens.

PRIVATELY OWNED

Many tornado sirens are privately owned, which means whoever buys them can install them wherever they choose. That was the case after a tornado hit Kalamazoo County in 1980. Private home and business owners bought several sirens and installed them exclusively around the city. Sirens still remain sparse around other parts of the county.

Kent County has a similar issue.

“Some of our rural areas where there may not be a dense population may not get a siren as close as they’d like to have,” explained Kent County Emergency Manager Jack Stewart.

>>Photos: Aftermath of the Wyoming/Kentwood tornado

NO RULES

Once a warning is issued, some sirens will go off automatically, but some may not sound at all, since there is no set of siren activation rules for private owners.

“The National Weather Service does not operate the sirens, so the local communities are responsible for setting off the sirens when they deem appropriate,” added Jim Maczao with the National Weather Service.

OUTDOOR ONLY

The National Weather Service says tornado sirens were never designed to be heard at home.

“Sirens are meant to alert you when you’re outside, not when you’re inside,” explained Maczao.

If the warning never comes, there are still other two ways to stay safely informed- buy a weather radio and sign up for Storm Team 8’s text alerts.

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