Sunday night, a severe thunderstorm moved through the southwest metro, triggering the outdoor sirens to sound in communities from Shakopee to Minneapolis.
Because it was a severe thunderstorm warning, there was confusion as to why the sirens were going off. I had wrapped up storm chasing for the day, and was on the road heading out of town to visit my girlfriend for the remainder of the Memorial Day weekend. Therefore, I could not do a lot of digging into “sirengate” at the time.
Shakopee mayor, Brad Tabke, asked the Scott County Sheriff’s Office about the policy for the sirens, and was told it was because of the National Weather Service warning of 70 mph winds. The issue is that this policy is not clearly stated anywhere. My search of the Scott County website turned up nothing. All I could find was vague criteria of “high winds” found elsewhere on the web.
The Scott County Sheriff’s Office was correct with their information as the initial warning from the National Weather Service did include text of destructive winds in excess of 70 mph.
BULLETIN - IMMEDIATE BROADCAST REQUESTED
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TWIN CITIES/CHANHASSEN MN 727 PM CDT SUN MAY 27 2012
THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN THE TWIN CITIES HAS ISSUED A
* SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING FOR...
SOUTHEASTERN CARVER COUNTY IN EAST CENTRAL MINNESOTA...
SOUTHERN HENNEPIN COUNTY IN EAST CENTRAL MINNESOTA...
CENTRAL SCOTT COUNTY IN EAST CENTRAL MINNESOTA...
* UNTIL 815 PM CDT
* AT 721 PM CDT...TRAINED SPOTTERS REPORTED A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WITH QUARTER SIZE HAIL AND DESTRUCTIVE WINDS IN EXCESS OF 70 MPH. THIS STORM WAS LOCATED NEAR JORDAN...OR ABOUT 20 MILES NORTHEAST OF LE SUEUR...AND MOVING NORTH AT 25 MPH.
While I do agree Scott County acted properly with the sirens in this situation as winds with this event were near or at hurricane force, this event really got me thinking that it is time to reform the outdoor siren system in state. It varies from county to county. Rusty Dawkins, chief met at KAAL-TV in Austin, MN was kind enough to share when sirens sound in southern Minnesota. I believe it is time to adopt a uniform policy for the sirens during severe weather. Dakota County uses them for any severe thunderstorm warning. Having never lived in Dakota County, I asked if the sirens are effective when activated during every severe thunderstorm in the county. Here some of the responses received. Many current and former residents expressed their disapproval.
A uniform policy should be one that simple and concise for the public to remember. The information should be right at your fingertips - it should not have to take a tweet during severe weather to get an explanation for the siren activation. Here is what I propose for consistency across the state:
- Severe thunderstorms with winds 70 mph or greater
- Tornado warnings
That’s it. Simple, easy to remember. The sirens would sound for only the most severe of storms, avoiding the “cry wolf” mentality. This information should also be shared during severe weather awareness week each year as a reminder. I’m a firm believer in the KISS principle and common sense, and I think it’s time for the state to take a long and serious look at reforming the outdoor sirens during severe thunderstorms.