It’s been a relatively quiet severe weather season here in Edgar County, but just to our northwest, three tornadoes touched down in Champaign County in the past month.
Outdoor warning sirens remained silent for each tornado, and unfortunately, residents were caught off guard by the approaching thunderstorms. There were no deaths or injuries due to the twisters, but some of the comments made by those residents are alarming to meteorologists and broadcasters alike.
Many residents were upset at the silence of the outdoor warning sirens. Some say they wait until they hear those sirens to take shelter from the storm; if they don’t hear them, they don’t give the storm much attention.
While we’ve already seen a tornado warning for Edgar County this year, it has been since 2014 that a tornado impacted the county, and residents should be prepared for the unpredictable weather and not rely on only one source – like the sirens – for their information.
Here in Edgar County, there are no outdoor warning sirens owned by the county or the City of Paris. The Edgar County Emergency Services and Disaster Agency (ESDA) highly encourages all residents to sign up to receive free alerts from the Wireless Emergency Notification System (WENS). This system will call or text registered numbers during a tornado warning based on your location. WENS is activated by the National Weather Service in Lincoln, and it will only alert those in the affected area. However, if you change numbers or move, you must update that information in order to continue receiving alerts. You can register for these alerts by visiting ESDA’s webpage on edgarcountyillinois.com.
Down in Clark County, the 911 Dispatch Center oversees the sirens in Marshall and Martinsville. They will activate the sirens for tornado warnings, but if a funnel cloud or tornado is spotted approaching the area, the sirens will sound continuously until the threat passes. Casey’s siren is operated by the City of Casey EMA, and it is activated based on storm reports from communities already impacted by the storm as well as information from the National Weather Service. If there is a threat to the city, the siren will sound.
Whether or not your community has a siren, they should not be your sole source of information. Furthermore, outdoor warnings sirens were designed like the name suggests – to be heard outdoors. Many modern homes will block the noise of the sirens, which are a Cold War-era technology. They are meant to alert people to get inside and seek further information, which can be found through a variety of methods.
Critical weather alerts, like tornado warnings, are now instantly sent to many cell phones, thanks to a government program launched in 2012. If the cell phone tower you are using goes under the warning, a message is instantly sent to all phones within that tower’s range. If you have a smartphone, there are also numerous apps available that will push notifications for your current location or home county.
One of the best ways to stay informed is to purchase a NOAA Weather Radio. You can program these radios to your home county, and the newer versions allow you to choose which watches and warnings you want to receive. NOAA Weather Radios are also designed with a tone to wake you up at night in the event of overnight storms. Signal strength for weather radios is great around Edgar County as the National Weather Service maintains a transmitter site in Paris.
Local media outlets are also a valuable source during severe weather. Broadcast radio and television stations are required to broadcast severe weather information to their coverage areas. Here at The Prairie Press, watches and warnings for Edgar County are instantly posted to our Facebook and Twitter pages as they are issued.
Find out which methods work best for you, and pick a few. Malfunctions can always occur, and when it comes to critical weather information, those malfunctions could pose a risk to the safety of you and your family.