Things we’re accustomed to here

Just to inform you: if call in to a location in the upper midwest at a particular hour in, usually, the first week of the month, you may find yourself drowned out, as this bewildered reporter discovered. She seems a little flustered and concerned.

Every month, communities around here test out the tornado alert system. When I first moved here, it sure startled me — piercing sirens suddenly going off once a month, and at first I had no idea what it was about. Air raid? Nuclear war? Nah, it’s just a routine test in case a howling funnel of savage destructive winds descend on you and wreck all the buildings around you. Nothing to worry about.


  1. Jason Nishiyama says

    Reminds me of my first summer call-out as a newly minted reserve officer cadet. Stationed at CFB Cold Lake I had read the base manual which stated, among other things the various types of air raid siren. What the manual failed to mention is that they tested the siren at noon on Tuesdays, when they remember to do that. They forgot to test it the first three weeks I was there. The 4th Tuesday I had changed to night shift and was in blissful slumber when at noon I was awoken by an undulating air raid siren signalling “base under imminent attack”, which in the 1980s implied a Soviet nuclear warhead was likely to be falling from the sky. I was to say the least startled and rushed to my barrack window to notice that absolutely no-one was rushing about as one would expect. So I went back to sleep with the thought that in 20 minutes I’d either still be sleeping or in a position of not caring.

  2. says

    And of course in the replies to that tweet there are the words “fear porn” (from an “independent thinker” no less) because our species is broken.

  3. lb says

    There’s a siren that test fires the first Thursday of every month near where I work. I’m not far from a university campus and the siren was installed to warn of an active shooter, believe it or not. The joys of living in the South.

  4. Big Boppa says

    I’ve become so used to the testing of our nearby siren that I don’t even notice it now. If we ever have a tornado on the first Tuesday of the month at 10AM I’m screwed.

  5. Rich Woods says

    In 1953 there was a big flood which affected nine hundred miles of the east coast of Scotland and England, killing three hundred people. After that a system of flood warnings was set up in towns along the coast, which included sounding an evacuation warning to the general public using air raid sirens left over from the Second World War. One of these sirens was mounted on — appropriately enough — a water tower about half a mile from the house where I grew up. They’d usually only test each siren twice a year, publishing warnings in the local paper so that everyone would be reminded. One of those times, when I was about ten years old, I was cycling past the water tower when the siren started up — it was like being hit by a wall of sound, a banshee wail from the bowels of hell.

    Years later I got permission to go up the water tower to do some photography. Once on the roof I was surprised to see that the fearsome siren, which I’d imagined as something built by Morlocks, was just a motor-driven cylinder barely three feet long — although there was one mounted on each corner of the tower, presumably to provide enough coverage to scare the crap out of the entire northern end of town.

  6. R. L. Foster says

    Here in Williamsburg, Virginia we get the quarterly warning siren for the Surry Nuclear Power Station which lies about 5 miles as the crow flies from my home. It happens at 11:10 a.m and is a steady three-minute tone. If we hear the siren at any other time it’s time to pack up and get the hell out of town.

  7. says

    Supposedly there were tests of the handful of air raid sirens in Saskatoon in the ’70s, but I don’t remember them. Probably because I didn’t live near enough one to hear them. They were removed decades ago.

  8. Hoosier Bluegill says

    Monthly? Hah. Here in southern Indiana, those tests are weekly – noon and 7:00 pm every Friday during the tornado season

  9. Artor says

    It seems like regular tests of those sirens would reduce their effectiveness. If people’s reaction is “Oh, they’re just testing the warning sirens,” then what happens when it’s not a test? I’d think a better test would be a short blatt, instead of the full “Run for cover! You’re all going to die!” wail.

  10. jrkrideau says

    @ 8 timgueguen
    Back in the early 1970’s I was walking down a cold dark street in Kingston Ont when the sirens went off. Kingston is a military base. War? False alarm?

    I assume false alarm.

  11. dorght says

    When I lived in Wichita, KS the tests were every Monday at 11:00am during tornado season. Monthly in the off season. They also later added a voice announcement to the test. I worked third shift for many years there and can happly report that I didn’t sleep through any of them.
    The siren’s going off were an invitation to turn on the tv to the local weather Chicken Little, observe the radar, and go stand on the porch. A major system enhancement was when they changed from all sirens in the huge county going off to activating just the individual sirens for the narrow effected area. Greatly decreased the crying wolf effect.

  12. dorght says

    @10 Artor
    You quickly learn the difference between the test and a warning. A quick look at the time and sky usually stops the apprehension. They also don’t test if the weather is threatening.

  13. blf says

    In the Mediterranean seaside village where I live, a fecking loud siren goes off every now and then, usually for (seemingly) minutes at a time, and on no schedule I can discern. It is connected to the local lifeboat (coast guard rescue), and I presume most of the time it’s a test — but that some of the time, it’s signalling the (all?-)volunteer crew to muster immediately.

  14. wzrd1 says

    I learned the hard way about what happens when an emergency device isn’t tested on a regular basis – it failed without being noticed and when a real emergency struck, the failure was promptly noticed.
    That happened twice, once for the server farm emergency generator, leaving the entire data center eerily silent and rapidly warming, once where the Giant Voice warning system failed on a forward base and our only warning was the detonation of incoming munitions.
    Fortunately, in both instances there were no casualties beyond a bumped noggin for those who had their head under a shelf or vehicle hood and were startled by the boom.
    Monthly testing ensued after each event.

  15. says

    The sirens also test the people in charge of them. Do you know how to turn it on? Do you know how to turn it off? Can you do those things really quickly if you get a phone call?

  16. mcfrank0 says

    I was thoroughly used to the Tuesday 10:00 AM sirens in Chicago — but I still noticed them every time.

    I now live in Austin, Texas and haven’t noticed them once — even though they supposedly go off with the same schedule as Minnesota: the first Wednesday of the month at noon.

    So now I’m wondering whether I’ve gotten too inured to the sirens -OR- if there isn’t a siren sufficiently close by to be an effective warning.