Breaking News
More () »

Outdoor warning sirens warn for more than tornadoes

Often referred to as 'tornado sirens', outdoor warning sirens can alert you of multiple hazards.

PERRYSBURG, Ohio — Many people are familiar with the sound of a tornado siren. However, there's a catch to the familiar wail you hear: the siren doesn't only provide warnings when funnel clouds touch down, as the colloquial term "tornado siren" might imply. 

In fact, the loud, long and steady tone comes from what's called an outdoor warning siren, and it could be alerting you to more than tornadoes. 

Jeff Klein, director of Wood County Emergency Management, said there are no standards for outdoor warning sirens on the local, state or national level.  That means not only are communities not required to sound them, but they are also not even required to have outdoor warning sirens.

The origins of outdoor warning sirens date back decades in history. 

"Outdoor warning sirens are kind of like a carryover from the old self-defense the air raid sirens," Klein said. "And then they kind of realized that we're not getting [or] having an air raids all the time. But we can use them for other things. So they kind of adopted that we can use them as outdoor warning sirens."

Credit: WTOL 11

Decades ago, homes and lifestyles varied from present day, allowing the sirens to be easily heard within the home. Since most houses did not have air conditioning, windows would be open, allowing the sound waves from the sirens to travel inside.  

As home-owners began favoring the efficiency and comfort of air conditioning, insulation and oft-closed windows blocked out most noises from outdoor warning sirens. Hearing outdoor warning sirens indoors is difficult, and that is why the key to outdoor warning sirens can be found in the name.

Whether you’re out playing a sport or camping, some outdoor activities do not allow for easy access to a cellphone to gather warning information. In situations where a cellphone is not easily available, Klein said the sirens are designed to indicate people should head inside and check local media for information. 

While traveling, the outdoor warning sirens could sound for other reasons besides a tornado.  Outdoor warning sirens can alert for weather, but they can also alert of hazardous chemicals, natural disasters or emergencies.  

"They’re really going to be based on what the hazards of that area might be," Klein said. "For us, it typically is weather and the nuclear plants."  

Disasters warranting the use of an outdoor warning siren could include the Feb. 3 Norfolk-Southern train derailment, which released hazardous chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio. A situation like that could be another way officials communicate with residents to head inside for more information.

With lack of standards for outdoor warning sirens, make sure to stay alert with the WTOL 11 Weather app, WTOL 11+, and WTOL 11 on-air and online for the latest information.


Before You Leave, Check This Out