A Siren Rant

Well, here it is, my siren rant.


For this rant to have context, you need to know that before October 1, 2007, the National Weather Service issued tornado warnings for the entire county if any part of a storm suspected of producing the tornado touched any part of your county.

The result? Massive over-warning. Using the above example, there weren’t 1 million people in the path of a tornado. It got to where those actually in the path of a tornado didn’t believe the warning.

On October 1, 2007, the NWS saw the light. They got rid of the old “county based warning” system, and replaced it with a system where you only warn those people in the path of the storm:

For more than 8 years now, every warning has come with a polygon. Inside the polygon? You’re in the warning, take cover! Outside the polygon? You’re outside the warning.

That brings us to 5:00 PM Friday April 3, 2015 when NWS-Nashville issued a tornado warning for a storm east of I-65. Up went the below polygon. (I turned off the radar to illustrate our point):

Very specific communities were included in the warning text. Or, if you’re as low as a D- student in geography, one look at the map told you which communities were included in the warning:

And those which were not:

As most of you know, as soon as the warning was issued, Davidson County’s siren system stayed stuck in the past,

stuck in the over-warning days of county based warnings, and sounded the alarm all over the entire county. See the resulting confusion below:

Although the overwhelming majority of the population was outside the warned area, sirens nevertheless stirred up panic. Commerce slowed or stopped altogether. People huddled in basements, interior closets, wherever — as you all should have, BTW, because 30 minutes in a shelter is worth your life.

But it was all unnecessary.

You weren’t in the path of the warned storm. That storm was not approaching Sylvan Park. Or the fairgrounds. Or downtown, where NBC Nightly News was reporting on the sirens. Or anywhere else outside the polygon.

The sirens in Davidson County are not owned or controlled by the National Weather Service. Local government owns, operates, and decides whether and when to sound them.

Look, I get it. Our warning system is not perfect. Radar can’t detect everything. There is a false alarm problem that’s a byproduct of the science still trying to catch up. But can we at least ask our government to get its act together to give us the same message?

Sirens blaring outside the polygon are doing so for no reason, stirring up unnecessary panic and fear over a storm that, on that Friday, was moving 50 mph in the other direction.

For the record: sirens should never be your source of a tornado warning. They don’t always work and they’re not designed to be heard indoors. But when you hear them, you should at the very least know that it’s 2016, and you’re inside a tornado warning polygon…not stuck in 2006, 1996, and 1986, when we were unnecessarily warning those outside the path of a tornadic storm.

Our local, state, and federal governments are reading from different sheets of music, and the band sounds terrible.