Video: Storm Warning Sirens Sounding Over Downtown Fort Worth
Forty-eight hours before Wednesday’s severe storms are expected to arrive, Arlington officials were already thinking about the potential impacts from the storm.
The city’s emergency management administrator was already discussing the criteria for sounding outdoor warning sirens if the storms arrive during the Texas Rangers-Los Angeles Angels baseball game, with a potential 20,000 fans either headed to or already at Globe Life Park in Arlington for the 7:05 p.m. game.
“I guarantee we’ll be lowering the threshold,” Irish Hancock said.
The Storm Prediction Center has placed the Dallas-Fort Worth area under an enhanced risk of severe storms Wednesday. The greatest threat is expected to be large hail but isolated tornadoes and damaging winds cannot be ruled out.
Outdoor warning sirens — and why they are activated — became an issue on March 13 when 80 mph winds blew through the Dallas-Fort Worth in the early morning hours.
When the sirens sounded, North Texas residents awakened from a slumber assuming it meant a tornado was on the way.
The Fort Worth Office of Emergency Management went so far as to release a statement after those storms explaining that sirens sound for more than tornadoes.
“We can’t stress enough that the sirens are ‘outdoor warning sirens’ and not ‘tornado sirens,’” the statement said.
During that same storm, there was also confusion in Plano, where verbal messages were sent across the system that some residents said they couldn’t understand.
As a result, Plano officials said several weeks later that the sirens will sound only in the “wail-only” mode.
There is a regional framework for activating sirens that many North Texas cities have adopted but they are simply guidelines and no city is required to follow them. If there are outdoor events, such as the Rangers game in Arlington or a large outdoor festival, emergency management officials may take those into account.
“The sirens are called ‘outdoor warning sirens’ and they are intended to warn people that are outdoors to go inside and get additional information,” said Amanda Everly, Fort Worth’s assistant emergency management coordinator. “They can be sounded for a variety of reasons beyond tornadoes.”
In both Fort Worth and Arlington, the siren system has the ability to send out warnings to just certain parts of the city. The cities handle that issue differently.
“We can activate the sirens for a selected quadrant, but that would only be used for a very special circumstance and is not something I have done in my tenure with Arlington,” said Hancock, Arlington’s emergency management administrator. “When concerning severe weather, we prefer to sound for the entire city of Arlington.”
In Fort Worth, the city has the capability to sound all 147 sirens individually, in quadrants or all at once. Rarely are all of the sirens sounded at the same time.
“For example, in the last storm we had high winds around a specific outdoor event and only sounded the two, three sirens that were around that event,” said Everly, Fort Worth’s assistant emergency management coordinator. “The last big storm we had come through we sounded them on the entire west side of the city once and just the southeast quadrant of the city (during) the second round that came through.”
One North Texas city has resisted adding sirens.
Though the City Council and residents have brought up the issue in the past, Mansfield, the county’s fourth-largest city, has never purchased them for the 39-square miles it covers. As a comparison, Arlington’s 52 sirens cover about 99 square miles.
“My advice to everybody is to go out and get a weather radio,” said Greg Cutler, Mansfield’s emergency management coordinator.
Besides the cost of buying and maintaining sirens, Cutler said they have their limitations.
“They are not designed to alert people in their homes,” Cutler said. “That’s not what they are for. Many times people who are able to hear them will step outside — the exact opposite of what you want them to do, which is go indoors.”
Mansfield has the CodeRED notification system to notify residents of impending storms and other emergencies. It’s an opt-in system and about 12,000 residents have signed up for the weather alerts, Cutler said. Mansfield’s population is just under 69,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
But with cellphone notifications, weather apps and news broadcasts on television and radio, Cutler said he believes most residents are aware of impending storms.
Outdoor warning sirens might have a place in some parts of the city but not citywide, Cutler said.
“I think they could be strategically placed in certain areas for outdoor-use only,” Cutler said. “There might be a place for them on a smaller scale.”
The criteria for sounding sirens under the regional guidelines include:
▪ The National Weather Service issues a tornado warning.
▪ The National Weather Service issues a severe thunderstorm warning and indicates the potential for destructive winds of 70 mph or greater.
▪ Trained storm spotters have reported a tornado in the jurisdiction, or in a neighboring jurisdiction that has the potential to affect your community.
▪ Observed hail of 1.5 inches in diameter or greater.
▪ Other emergency as directed by the community’s designated public safety officials.