Deputies explain siren silence before tornadoes

CHAMPAIGN COUNTY, Ill. (WAND) – Responders say several factors went into a decision to not activate sirens before two tornadoes touched down.

A storm front produced the tornadoes Sunday as it moved through Champaign. The Champaign County Sheriff’s Office says the deputy coordinator, who works with the county’s Emergency Management Agency, talked with a trained spotter and firefighter in west Champaign, who watched the storm before 2 p.m. and did not see signs of a tornado. In addition, the National Weather Service told the coordinator it did not see any signs of a tornado on the radar.

By rule, deputies say the county’s sirens are activated if one of three things happens:

  • A trained spotter sees a tornado
  • The National Weather Service confirms the tornado on radar as it approaches Champaign, Urbana, the University of Illinois or Savoy coverage areas
  • Damage is reported in the path of the storm as it approaches those communities

Deputies say the tornadoes, which both dissipated in a minute or less, were gone before the coordinator learned about the damage caused. When the funnels touched down after 2 p.m., they damaged roofs and siding on houses along Copper Ridge Road and near the intersection of Duncan Road and Rolling Acres Drive.

Both tornadoes rated as EF-0 on the Fujita scale. That is the weakest rating a tornado can receive.

>>Related: Confirmed tornadoes damaged Champaign homes

In a notice sent to WAND-TV on Tuesday, deputies pointed out a desire for the public to act fast if a siren is turned on.

“When we sound the sirens, we want people to take immediate shelter,” the statement said. “If we begin using sirens anytime storm conditions are such that a tornado could develop (as opposed to when there is an actual tornado), I believe it is likely the public will soon begin to ignore the warning.”

The notice says hospitals, clinics and nursing homes often start moving patients from rooms and into hallways when sirens are on. Some businesses turn off manufacturing equipment as well.

“We have been talking amongst ourselves and some of our other local public safety first responders to analyze what happened and our procedures,” deputies added. “EMA will be meeting with meteorologists to review this incident and our procedures to see if further refinements would enhance public safety.”

Deputies say a monthly siren test failed on June 5 because a METCAD technician accidentally took out antennas from the activation systems while putting in an antenna for a different device. They say they corrected the situation and used a "silent test method" to make sure the sirens worked.