Spring is a time of transition and it kicks off the start of severe weather season in east-central Ohio. From now through September is severe weather season. During the next several months we will see untold numbers of thunderstorms and some of those will be capable of producing severe wind, hail, and probably even tornadoes.
Today we need to talk about those severe weather hazards and how you can protect your home and family from Mother Nature’s worst. We’re going to clear up some misconceptions about severe weather and hopefully, get you better prepared and safer when severe weather threatens our area.
One thing to keep in mind as we transition to warmer weather is that the US is currently in a La Nina year. Past experience has shown that the eastern US usually sees an uptick in the frequency of hail, severe thunderstorms, and tornadoes with La Nina.
If you’re reading this at home you can probably spot a smoke detector nearby. Only a fool would not have a working smoke/fire detector to alert family members of a fire and give everyone time to get out. Even in the middle of the night. We all know that smoke detectors are vital life-saving devices.
A weather radio does the same thing for dangerous weather. It alerts you and your family of impending severe weather giving you and your loved ones time to get to your safe place. If a tornado or severe storm is approaching these special radio receivers sound an alarm the instant a warning is issued by the National Weather Service.
Just like your smoke detector, a properly programmed weather radio will alert you and your family when you’re most vulnerable – in the middle of the night. They don’t depend on the internet or cell networks to function. They even have a battery backup in the event of a power failure. In short, a weather radio is the most trusted and reliable way to get warnings of approaching hazardous weather. Weather radios are proven life-savers and one could very well save your family.
They’re inexpensive, too. These days you can purchase a decent weather radio for $20 to $30. Even the cheap models can be programmed for your specific location and the alerts that are critical for your situation. For example, if you don’t live in a flood-prone area, you can elect not to receive flood alerts.
BUT WE HAVE TORNADO SIRENS
Many communities have outdoor tornado sirens. The technical name for these devices is outdoor warning siren. The important word here is OUTDOOR. They’re intended to warn folks who are OUTSIDE and were never intended to be used as an indoor warning system. And, even outdoors their reach is limited to a mile or two. Sure, you could probably hear an outdoor siren in the house on a nice clear day. But, you’ll never hear it in the middle of the night when a storm is raging and the wind is howling.
The standards for sounding sirens often vary from community to community. Most communities in my area only activate outdoor sirens when a tornado warning is issued. But what about other severe weather hazards like damaging straight-line winds or flooding? You’re on your own for anything other than a tornado I guess.
Noteworthy Alabama meteorologist James Spann calls it the siren mentality – the thinking that everything is okay if you don’t hear a tornado siren. Far too many have died or have been seriously injured simply because of this siren mentality.
We often see on the news of survivors who said that there was no warning after a tornado ripped through their neighborhood. It’s much more likely that there actually was a warning – they just didn’t hear it. Not having a warning and not hearing a warning are two completely different things. NEVER EVER rely on outdoor tornado sirens as your first line of warning for your family.
It’s also important to note that the National Weather Service does not activate outdoor warning sirens when a tornado warning is issued. Nor does your local TV weather person.
And, if you live in a rural area, outdoor warning sirens are usually not an option.
MY CELL PHONE HAS A WARNING APP
Nearly everyone has a cell phone these days. Many have installed some sort of weather warning app and these do work well – as long as the network is up and running. But if the network drops out because of a weather-related problem or your battery dies or you mute your phone at night, you won’t get that warning.
Some warning apps can introduce delays of up to several minutes pushing out alerts. That’s precious time you may not have.
Cell coverage in a rural setting can be spotty at best in some locations. If you live out in the country where cell coverage is iffy, a warning app is probably not a good choice.
A warning app for your phone is a good idea to use as a backup but it won’t do as good a job or be as reliable as a weather radio. I’ve only used one warning app – the FEMA app. It’s the only one I have experience with. The FEMA app is programable for up to five counties and it lets you decide which warnings and alerts you want to receive. I’ve never had an issue with it and it’s always performed well and without delay.
The FEMA app is non-commercial, advertisement-free, and it’s free to download and use from The Apple Store and Google Play. If you’re going to use a weather warning app, this is a good one.
CHOOSING A WEATHER RADIO FOR YOUR HOME, BUSINESS, OR ORGANIZATION
As I mentioned earlier, weather radios are available in stores and online. There are inexpensive models that are excellent choices for home use and there are some high-end models with additional features. I’ve always found the basic models work well for my needs but there are a couple of important things you need to look for.
- SAME TECHNOLOGY: This is the most important feature you need on a weather radio. SAME stands for Specific Area Message Encoding. Each US county has a specific code. This code is transmitted by NWS and received by the weather radio. When the receiver gets the code for your county, it trips the alarm. This assures that you only receive alerts for the county(s) you specify as well as the alert type you program to receive. Look to make sure the radio you choose uses SAME Technology. The vast majority do but there are some really cheap sets out there that do not include SAME.
- BATTERY BACKUP: Check to be sure the unit has a battery backup. Most do. This keeps the radio working in the event of a power failure – a common occurrence in severe weather situations. Make sure you keep fresh batteries in your unit. I refresh mine twice each year when we change time in the spring and fall.
PROGRAMMING YOUR WEATHER RADIO
Once you get your weather radio you will need to take some time to set it up. Weather radios are highly customizable and you’ll want to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. After all, your safety and the safety of your family is at stake here.
At the very least you’ll need to program in your county code. Each county in the US is different. Most weather radio manuals include this list of counties and their codes but you can also find them online arranged by state here. Note that some counties can have more than one transmitter. Simply choose the transmitter closest to your location. That will usually get you the strongest and most reliable signal.
You can also program your radio to only receive alerts that you wish to receive. If you don’t live near the Great Lakes or the ocean, you probably don’t want or need coastal alerts. The list of alert types is long and detailed so take your time selecting alert types important to you.
TESTING: The National Weather Service office tests weather radio receivers on a regular basis. My area is covered by NWS Pittsburgh and they perform a test every Wednesday about 11:00 AM. This test lets you know that your unit is working properly and that you will receive alerts immediately when issued.
The chances of your home, or workplace, or church, or club of being struck by a violent storm or tornado is pretty low. But, like the threat of fire, we never know when or where that might happen. To protect your home and family, it’s best to have the most reliable way of receiving alerts when severe weather threatens – no matter what time of the day or night that might be. Just like a smoke detector, a properly programmed and functioning weather radio will assure that you receive weather alerts tailored specifically for your area so that you can get to a safe place.
Way too many good people think that damage or fatalities from severe weather won’t happen here or the chances are very very low. But it can. And it probably will some time. There is simply no reason for anyone to get hurt or to die because they didn’t know.
I encourage you to purchase an inexpensive weather radio and have it set up in your home. The low cost of $20 – $30 is cheap insurance. It potentially could save your life and the life of your loved ones. Don’t be a victim of the siren mentality. Don’t be one of those who don’t hear the warning. Get a weather radio.