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Tornado Sirens & Safety Information

While tornadoes may occur anytime of the year, they are most likely in April, May, and June. Over half of all tornados occur between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., or on hot and humid days. One of the most important things you can do to prevent being injured in a tornado is to be alert to the onset of severe weather and reach shelter in time. The safest place to be during a tornado is in a basement, or in a small interior room like a closet or bathroom, away from outside walls and windows. 

The City’s tornado warning sirens are designed to alert people who are outside, giving them immediate notice to quickly seek shelter. Once sheltered, people should check the weather on their phones, radio, or television for more information. The safest place to be is below ground. Most deaths and injuries happen to people who are unaware and uninformed. If you have any indication that a tornado may be approaching, take cover immediately! Do not wait for a Tornado Warning to be issued. 

The City’s Emergency Management Agency first sounds the tornado sirens for three minutes when a Tornado Warning has been issued for St. Charles and the surrounding area by the National Weather Service. The sirens are sounded again if a tornado or other dangerous weather actually is spotted or strongly indicated on radar, or if a second tornado is indicated or spotted.  

A Tornado Watch Verses a Tornado Warning 

Illinois ranks fourth in the nation for the most tornadoes per square mile, averaging 53 tornadoes per year, according to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. The state uses three terms to describe tornado threats: watch, warning and emergency. 

A tornado watch means tornadoes are possible, but not confirmed, in a given area. The IEMA and National Weather Service recommend preparing to take shelter during this threat level. Sirens would not be activated for a tornado watch. 

A tornado warning means rotating, funnel-shaped clouds have been sighted or indicated on radar. Damaging winds and hail may accompany the storm. The Emergency Outdoor Warning Siren System will blare during a tornado warning and most cellphones should automatically receive weather alerts, according to the IEMA. 

Finally, a tornado emergency is issued if there is a confirmed violent tornado, which threatens human life and catastrophic damage. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

1. What does it mean when I hear the outdoor warning sirens?  

In short, it means that something life-threatening is happening outside and you should shelter indoors and get more information.

2. What should I do when I hear the outdoor warning sirens? 

When you hear the sirens, seek shelter indoors and tune in to local media or a weather radio to get more information. 

3.  Why can’t I hear the outdoor warning sirens in my house? 

Sirens are an outdoor warning system designed to alert those who are outside that something dangerous is approaching. Noise associated with the storms may diminish the ability to hear outdoor warning sirens. And, now that homes are more energy efficient and air tight, the ability to hear the warning sirens inside is further diminished. 

4.  How can I get alerts when I’m at work or in my house? 

For alerts indoors, every home and business should have a NOAA Weather Radio. NOAA Weather Radio is like a smoke detector for severe weather. It can even wake you up when a warning is issued for your area so you can take appropriate action. There also are many cell phone apps that can keep you informed about dangerous weather, even when traveling. 

5.  When are outdoor warning sirens tested? 

Sirens are tested at 10 a.m. on the first Tuesday of each month.

6.  Why don’t the outdoor warning sirens sound an all-clear signal? 

Alerting an all-clear siren may cause confusion that another severe storm is approaching. 

 7.  Why are the outdoor warning sirens sometimes sounded for hail and wind? 

When thunderstorm winds exceed 70 mph, trees can be uprooted or snapped. Hail that is golf ball sized or larger can break windows. Both of these things pose a direct risk to life if people are caught outdoors.   

 8.  How often can I expect the outdoor warning sirens to sound for severe weather? 

A siren will sound any time a tornado is indicated on the radar or spotted, when consistent wind speeds exceed 70 mph, or there is hail that is golf ball sized or larger.

 9.  Will the outdoor warning sirens warn me of every dangerous storm? 

The safest approach is to be proactive and use all of the information available to protect yourself and your family from threatening weather. Nothing can replace common sense. If a storm is approaching, the lightning alone is a threat. Sirens are only one part of a warning system that includes preparation, NOAA Weather Radio, and local media. 

10. Where are the sirens located?

  • Fifteenth and Indiana Streets
  • Dunham Rd. and East Main Street
  • Tri-Com Facility @ Lincoln Highway (Route 38) and Karl Madsen Drive
  • Cumberland Green Complex
  • Cemetery, Fifth and Johnor Avenues
  • Fire Station #3, 2901 Campton Hills Drive
  • North High School – Rt. 31 and Red Gate Rd.
  • Dunham Rd and Royal St. George Ct.
  • Pheasant Run Lift Station @ Rt. 64
  • Public Works Facility
  • Municipal Center, 2 E. Main St.

 11.  Who activates the outdoor warning sirens? 

Sirens are activated by the St. Charles Emergency Management or Fire Department personnel who monitor severe weather. 

12. City Tornado Warning Siren vs. Park District Lightning Alert

The City activates warning sirens placed throughout the community, which sound like a horn and continues for about 3 minutes. The Park District may activate a lightning alert in a park which includes a strobe light and a 30-second sound that sounds like a car alarm. Lightning alerts sound if lightning is detected within 10 miles.

13. Does the National Weather Service recommend guidelines for sounding outdoor warning sirens? 

Nationally, no. However, the local NWS office has partnered with local emergency managers to develop recommended siren guidelines. 

created Jul 01, 2021 updated Aug 10, 2021