Sirens Not Just a Warning for Tornados

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POLK COUNTY, Iowa -- Many people in western Polk County heard sirens Sunday night, but didn't see rain or wind until much later.

That's because the policy is to sound the sirens for three to five minutes, every 15 minutes for the duration of a weather warning.

On Sunday, Dallas County was under a warning beginning at 8:00 p.m. and lasting until 9:00 p.m. That included parts of West Des Moines, Clive, and Urbandale.

But, because parts of those cities are also in Polk County, sirens went off in areas that weren't under the warning. Polk County Emergency Management says the sirens are important, but shouldn't be the only warning system people rely on during severe weather.

"I would say to people, do not use the outdoor warning sirens as your only single point of resource for understanding what is going on. Please go inside, seek additional information from the TV, the radio or any of the severe weather apps on your phone to find out exactly what is going on,” says Samantha Brear with Polk County Emergency Management.

The sirens sound for tornado threats and winds of more than 70 miles-per hour.


  • Dawn W.

    But to tell us not to rely on just the sirens seems like a step backwards. Don’t force us to glue ourselves to TV or radio. Use the cell towers to send out warnings… so far mine has only ever gone off for flash floods.

  • Jon D.

    It doesn’t say not to rely on them. It says they shouldn’t be your only source for weather information They are not designed to be heard inside structures and are instead to warn persons outside who do not have access to electronic devices for receiving alerts. Outdoor warning sirens are crude devices in and of themselves. The sirens only produce one tone, indicating that conditions are such that you should seek additional information to ensure your safety. They are designed to work in concert with other more sophisticated systems such as television, radio, internet and NOAA weather alert radios to provide complete information about the threat. It is then the responsibility of individuals to take action based on that threat. The intent of the sirens is to provide ample warning for persons to seek shelter and additional information before the storm hits. Because of this, sirens may sound before hazardous conditions exist. Due to the nature of severe weather, hazardous conditions may also develop before an activation of the sirens is possible. Outdoor warning sirens should not be your sole source of warning.

  • Ishmale Whale

    Excessive sounding of the sirens, when there is no bad weather happening in the sirens location, will cause people to start ignoring them. For some people, the sirens are their only warning. Not everyone has internet, smart phones, and I know people who do not own a TV. I can’t even hear our tornado siren go off indoors after they were replaced with those “air horn” sirens. I am a storm spotter so I do have weather radios, but I can not hear the sirens indoors. My dogs do and they will start howling to let me know.

  • harrisbock

    I can’t even hear our tornado sirens indoors after they were switched to “air horn” sirens. I am a storm spotter and the more excessively the sirens are sounded, the more people will start to ignore them. Not everyone has a smart phone or internet.

  • Dan Plathe

    Sounding the sirens should be for Tornado Warnings only… all it’s going to do by sounding them all the time a storm comes thru for high winds, make people immune to the siren, and think it’s just high wind, or bad storm.. and not a tornado..

  • harrisbock

    @Dan Plathe. EXACTLY! People will go, “Again? no big deal…It is always nothing…” and ignore it. That will kill people when the true tornado hits and everyone is thinking nothing of the sirens.

  • Dan Plathe

    Yep! As soon as they announced that they were doing this, I was like WTH… I get it.. but no one is going to think much of the sirens if we sound them all the time..

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