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Some communities sounded their sirens Wednesday, despite the absence of any tornadoes.
Some communities sounded their sirens Wednesday, despite the absence of any tornadoes.

Why you may have heard sirens

When the sirens sounded Wednesday night in Waukesha, most who heard them assumed a tornado warning had been issued. Residents of Muskego and Kenosha heard similar sirens and also assumed that a tornado was threatening.


It turns out the sirens were sounded in those communities (and others) because of the potential for destructive, non-tornado winds.

But wait, you say, they are "tornado sirens." Aren't they supposed to be used for tornadoes only?

Not necessarily.

I'm told that many local communities reserve the right to sound their sirens for any situation that may be considered a serious threat to public safety. In the case of Wednesday night, the National Weather Service was warning about the potential for winds over 100 miles per hour. Winds of that strength are strong enough to do major to damage to homes, power lines, trees, etc. In my estimation, 100 mph winds do qualify as a serious threat to public safety.

But wait, you say, if the winds are going to be over 100 mph, there has to be a tornado, right?

Not true.

When certain atmospheric conditions are in place, wind speeds can hit triple digits without the presence of a tornado. We call these "straight-line" winds, as opposed to the rotating winds of a tornado. This type of situation isn't common, but it does happen more often than you might think.

And here's the kicker: What many don't realize is that a large percentage of tornadoes barely get much over 100 mph.

So, in the case of Wednesday night, we had a situation where the potential for damage was about equal to that in most tornado situations. Therefore, officials in many communities determined that the situation was serious enough to sound their warning sirens.

Some communities remained silent. Some may not have deemed the potential for 100-plus mph winds siren-worthy. Others may have a policy that they only hit the horn for official tornado warnings. There may have been other reasons as well.

Whatever the case, there was confusion around why the sirens were going off in some places and not others, as well as why they were going off at all.

The bottom line, I guess, is that when you hear warning sirens, dangerous conditions exist, whether there's a tornado or not.


EastSideMKE | June 10, 2011 at 12:53 p.m. (report)

How does this publication still exist? How do you find sponsors? The staff over at OMC writes about the most trivial subjects, which wouldn't be so bad if not for the terrible writing itself. I hope none of you are compensated for your contributions, because I constantly ask myself "what are they contributing?" Have you ever read a well written alternative publication like or Westword? They're heavy on civic boosterism (reviews of concerts, movies and restaurants, top 10 lists, etc) like OMC, but also feature actual journalism and investigative reporting not just the whimsical rantings of its staff members. People want real news, why not do an article that asks City Hall what is the state of the streetcar? Why not ask Kohl's where they plan on relocating instead of just speculating on it? How about getting to the bottom of why the M7 was silent on the subject of high speed rail during the gubernatorial campaign and what the repercussions of losing that money have meant for our state? Why did Herb Kohl build a basketball/hockey arena in Madison, but he can't build one in Milwaukee? Why doesn't one of Milwaukee's numerous other Fortune 500s like Northwestern Mutual or Harley-Davidson build a new arena? Same question can be said about expanding the convention center and why ManPower or Johnson Controls can't help pay for it? Why is Greater Milwaukee still the most segregated metropolitan area in the nation? There's plenty of news to be covered in this city and nobody is choosing to cover it.

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