Sirens? What to do when severe weather strikes

This is part two of a two-part series.

When bad weather strikes, students won’t always be on their college campus. They may find themselves on the road, in a public place or even at home.

Spring is the main season for severe weather in North Central Texas. John Patterson, senior emergency management specialist of Dallas Emergency Management, has some tips to help students stay safe when bad weather strikes.

“Prepare by doing situation awareness, by keeping an eye on the weather and know in the area where the outdoor warning system is,” Patterson said.

The outdoor warning system consists of sirens located all across Dallas to warn residents of an emergency. If the sirens sound, that’s the signal to take shelter and follow emergency instructions from local media or emergency officials.

Outdoor warning sirens on the Richland campus alert students to dangerous weather.

Outdoor warning sirens on the Richland campus alert students to dangerous weather.

These sirens are most commonly thought to warn residents of an incoming tornado. They are also used to warn residents of dangerous storms that may bring hail the size of 1.5 inches or greater, or a severe thunderstorm with wind speeds over 70 mph. The outdoor warning system is tested on the first Wednesday of the month at noon, if weather permits.

The most concerning weather event that could hit North Texas is a tornado. If a tornado is approaching the area, residents should take cover immediately.

“We have approximately 160 sirens that will sound accordingly. When we sound them it is based on different sectors of the city, depending on where the storm is and we sound them accordingly, based on the track of the storm,” Patterson said.

According to the National Weather Service, if people are outside, they should take shelter in a building immediately. The safest place is on the most interior or lowest floor, or in a designated shelter if a tornado approaches them while outside. Taking shelter in a vehicle or beneath an overpass puts people at greater risk of being injured by flying debris due to the tornadic winds.

“For at home, we highly encourage people to purchase a NOAA weather radio that they can program for Dallas County. You can hear watches and warnings that are issued by the weather service, just specifically for Dallas County,” Patterson said. “They don’t have to get all 42 counties that the weather service serves. They can just specify which counties they can receive watches or warnings for.”

NOAA weather radios are available from electronics stores and online markets. The price may vary from $15 to $40 dollars, depending on the brand and accessories.

The majority are battery powered so it is best to keep spare batteries around. Listen to NOAA weather radio to stay up-to-date on the situation. NOAA weather radios will work even if the electricity goes off.

Preparing for severe weather isn’t just knowing where the outdoor warning systems are and how to respond. It’s important to know the terminology that the National Weather Service will issue in an emergency.

We’ve all heard the terms “severe thunderstorm watch” or “flash flood warning,” but what is the difference between a watch and a warning?

According to the National Weather Service, a “watch” means conditions are favorable for that type of weather to occur in the listed area. When a watch has been issued, residents should take the time to prepare for any weather changes to occur. A “warning” indicates that the storm is imminent. The weather event is occurring and those within the path of the storm should take cover immediately to protect themselves.