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by Submitted by Shawn Fluharty, Captain Marion Fire Department · August 10th, 2017


The last couple of months have been very active with severe weather in the area. The threat of severe weather usually extends until early September. The Marion Fire Department offers these severe weather reminders and recommendations for how to protect yourself during severe weather.

The National Weather Service issues two types of advisories. The first one is a Watch which means that conditions are favorable for severe weather to develop. They issue a Severe Thunderstorm Watch if conditions are favorable for severe thunderstorms and they issue a Tornado Watch if conditions are favorable for a tornado to occur. A Watch does NOT mean that a severe weather event is currently happening; it means that it could and you should be aware of weather in your area.

A Warning means that severe weather is happening and you need to take action. They issue either a Severe Thunderstorm Warning or a Tornado Warning. They only issue those warnings if they have trained spotters reporting those conditions or they have radar or other technology that indicates that the warnings are warranted. If a warning is issued, you need to take action to protect yourself. It is possible for a tornado warning to be issued for part of Linn County and the sun could be shining in Marion. While this can be deceiving, it means that there is still severe weather in the area and you need to turn to local media to find out if you need to take action.

The Cedar Rapids/Marion metro area is very fortunate to have an extensive outdoor warning (siren) system in place. For severe weather, the purpose of this system is to warn people who are outside to seek shelter and obtain further information from local media sources like TV and radio. The criteria for sounding the sirens are:

A tornado warning issued by the National Weather Service.

A tornado or funnel cloud spotted by a trained weather spotter.

A severe thunderstorm warning issued from the National Weather Service.

A trained weather spotter reporting 70 MPH winds or golf ball-sized hail or larger.

As you can see from the criteria, the sirens are not activated for all thunderstorms. People should not solely rely on the siren system as their only warning for severe weather. A dangerous thunderstorm could be moving through the area but not meet the criteria to activate the sirens. Linn County does NOT use the sirens to sound an all clear. If you hear the sirens sounding for a second time, severe weather is still occurring or another line of storms is approaching.

Outdoor sirens are not intended to be heard inside buildings. There are several options to receive weather warnings indoors. The best is a weather radio that is activated when a watch or warning has been issued. These devices can be purchased at various local stores. Many of the local TV stations have mobile apps for your smart phone that will issue alerts in the event of severe weather.

The sirens are tested the first Wednesday of each month at 8:45 a.m. A message is broadcast before the sirens activate to indicate it is just a test. The monthly test will not be conducted if a watch or warning has been issued for the area.

In the event that a severe thunderstorm or a tornado warning is issued, you should seek shelter. The best place is a room on the lowest level of your home with no windows and as far away from the exterior walls as possible. Getting under a heavy bench or sturdy table can provide extra protection. Use your arms to protect your head or even wear a helmet such as a bike helmet.

The best protection against severe weather is being aware of your surroundings and paying attention to any watches or warnings issued for your area.
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