Weather Service urges radios for storm readiness

February 29, 2012 9:10:51 PM PST
Despite the tornado sirens sounding in downstate Harrisburg Wednesday morning, a lot of people stayed asleep and did not hear them.

According to advice from the National Weather Service, there is a simple way to make sure when that there is a severe weather alert, you get it.

In recent years there have been major improvements in tornado forecasting allowing for earlier warning lead times. They now average 13 minutes, but when it comes to receiving those warnings, many people are still relying on 20th century technology.

"Sirens are great. They serve a purpose, but they should not be your primary method of receiving warnings," said Jim Allsopp of the National Weather Service.

That's because as loud as they are, tornado sirens are not designed to be heard indoors or wake people up in the middle of the night.

"It depends on where you are in relation to the siren, how close it is to your house, whether you've got the windows open or not," says Allsopp. "I mean, there's a lot of variables there."

Instead, meteorologists recommend a weather radio to keep near your bed. The radios cost as little as $30 and broadcast up to the minute alerts. Just Tuesday, state officials launched an initiative to raise awareness about these life-saving tools.

"Having the weather alert radio there in your home right where you are sleeping, it is loud enough to wake you up," said Chris Miller of the National Weather Service. "It is essentially your own personal storm siren."

Even less expensive are the slew of weather alert apps now available for users. For those without a smart phone, "some communities or counties offer a service where you can sign up to get emergency messages, not just for weather, but any type of civil emergency or hazmat spill or any type of evacuation that might be going on," says Allsop.

North suburban Northbrook is one municipality offering emergency text messages, emails, and phone calls to residents who sign up to a village database. The service also comes in handy after a storm offering information such as road closures.

It is estimated that 30 percent of tornadoes in Illinois strike at night, and even a few extra seconds of warning can make a big difference.