Sirens will sound for Michigan’s statewide tornado drill on Wednesday: What to know

Statewide tornado drill planned

In accordance with Michigan Severe Weather Awareness Week, held March 20-26, and, in keeping with past tradition, the state will conduct a statewide test tornado warning at 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday (March 23).

Most of you will hear your community sirens sound, although not all communities will test theirs. I wish all cities did, but it’s their choice to participate in the statewide drill or not.

One thing I want you to remember today is that the sirens are an OUTDOOR warning system. They are there to warn people outside about a tornado threat, and do NOT exist to warn people indoors. If you hear your siren inside your home, you are lucky…most people watching TV don’t hear their siren. So don’t rely upon the sirens when at home. Having a weather radio is your fool-proof way to get warnings…we at Local 4 recommend the Midland weather radio.

Yes, you can get warning alerts on your cell phone, but not if the cellular network or cell towers go down. Every home should have a weather radio. Just like smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, a weather radio just sits there silently and sounds a piercing alarm if a warning is issued (it will also alert you to watches if you program it to).

Alright, so in a real thunderstorm situation, exactly what do the sirens mean? If you hear the siren during a severe weather situation, it means that either a confirmed tornado or a thunderstorm showing strong rotation and a real potential to produce a tornado is headed in your general direction. That is your warning to get to your safe spot as quickly as possible. When that siren sounds, you don’t know how close or far away that storm is. You may only have seconds to take cover, or you may have minutes. But you don’t know.

I still vividly remember a story I did back in 1990 about two women in Novi who got to the basement with their respective two-year old children only thirty seconds before the tornado hit the house. It was a direct hit…the chimney was actually pushed out into the backyard. But they were fine.

So where should your tornado safety place be? Well, as alluded to above, if you have a basement that’s the place to go. And if there’s a table to protect yourself under or a small closet to go in, then that’s even better. If you don’t have a basement, there IS a safe place to go: any small room on the lowest floor in the middle of the house. It can be a bathroom, a pantry, or a closet…but the key is to be in the middle of that bottom floor. Why? Because most people that are hurt or killed by tornadoes are not picked up and thrown by the twister. Rather, they are hit by flying debris. Let’s face it: a stop sign flung at you at 100+ mph by the tornado is going to do some damage. So putting as many walls as possible between you and the tornado gives you a very strong chance of surviving, since flying debris will have to get through at least two walls to get to you.

And by the way, there is one non-tornado weather reason the sirens will sound. You can read about that here.

So when you hear the sirens today, pause for a moment and think about what I’ve just taught you, and also think about where your place of safety is. Knowing where to go ahead of time could save you the precious seconds you need when it really matters.

About the Author:

Local 4 meteorologist Paul Gross was born in Detroit and has spent his entire life and career right here in southeast Michigan. Paul has researched, written and produced eight half-hour documentaries for WDIV, as well as many science, historical and environmental stories.