When the outdoor siren sounds, get indoors

(Courtesy City of Muscatine)

The outdoor warning sirens were activated in Muscatine County Friday morning when the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a Severe Storm Warning and again a short time later for a Tornado Warning. A line of strong storms moved through Muscatine County just after sunrise Friday morning with the potential for winds over 70 mph, large hail, and tornadoes.


The outdoor warning sirens are a system that is intended to notify residents outside of their homes or places of business that severe weather is imminent. The sirens are just one part of a multi-layered system to alert residents of potential life-threatening storms. Other parts include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Weather Radio (NWR), broadcast radio, television, and cable providers that use the Emergency Alert System (EAS), Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) systems, telephonic notification services, and digital message boards along highways.


All sirens operated by the Muscatine County Emergency Management Agency are activated at the same time no matter what part of the county is involved in the warning, and all sirens utilize just one tone to notify the public of the warning.

“We have a county wide warning system so although the weather may be fine in one area, it could be quite the opposite in another,” Jerry Ewers, Muscatine Fire Chief, said. “Never dismiss the sirens and always seek information of where the storms are.”


When you hear the outdoor warning sirens, it is time to move indoors and check local media for further information.


An “All Clear” tone is no longer sounded since residents should have moved indoors. When inside, residents should review local weather stations to see when the alerts expire, and only return to normal activities if the situation is over and the area is safe.


One device just as important to safety in the home as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors is a NOAA All Hazards alert radio that can notify residents INSIDE their home to severe weather watches and warnings, civil emergencies, and amber alerts. These units, especially battery powered ones, are vital whether residents are in various locations inside the home or have moved to a place of safety within the home.


The Muscatine County Emergency Management Agency highly recommends that residents keep a weather radio with a battery backup in their homes for use during times of inclement weather.


“Folks can also reach out to me anytime with questions, comments, or concerns, including assistance with making a home/family sheltering plan,” Chris Jasper, Director of Emergency Management/911 for Muscatine County, said. “I can provide them with sample plans and assist them with where to shelter inside their residence, if needed.”


Jasper can be reached at 563-264-7142 or by email at cjasper@muscatineiowa.gov.


According to the Iowa Emergency Management Association (IEMA) the sole purpose of outdoor warning sirens is for the protection of life. Hearing an outdoor warning siren is a call to take immediate life-saving action and the most desired individual action is to take shelter.


“Get inside and then get information” is the recommendation of emergency management professionals.


Muscatine County offers an alert notification through ALERT IOWA, a mass notification and emergency messaging system hosted by the Iowa Homeland Security & Emergency Management Department. Residents can sign up for the types of alerts they would like to receive and select the best way to receive those messages.


The standard operating procedure for activation of the outdoor sirens includes:


  • The sirens are activated for severe thunderstorms when the NWS issues a severe thunderstorm warning or a trained spotter reports winds of 70 mph or greater and/or golf ball size hail or larger. Hail begins to break windows when it reaches or exceeds golf ball size and winds of 70 mph or greater are enough to break large branches and small trees.
  • The sirens are activated for tornadoes when the NWS issues a tornado warning and/or a trained spotter reports a tornado or funnel cloud.
  • The sirens can also be activated for non-weather emergencies (hazmat incident, terrorism, nuclear emergency, etc.) that pose a threat to those who are outdoors and require action to protect life.


When the NWS issues a severe thunderstorm watch or a tornado watch, it is a notification to residents that conditions exist that severe weather is possible and residents should be prepared if a warning is issued. If the sirens sound … get inside and get informed.


A severe thunderstorm watch means “Be Prepared” as conditions are favorable for a severe thunderstorm to form, so tune in to forecast updates, monitor sky conditions, and know where to take shelter if needed.


A severe thunderstorm warning means “Take Action!” and take shelter immediately as a severe thunderstorm is happening or about to happen.


Severe thunderstorms produce damaging wind and/or large hail. If a warning is issued, take shelter in a sturdy structure away from windows (a basement or cellar would be best). Being inside a hard-topped vehicle is safer than being outside. Thunderstorms also produce lightning that kills an average of 30 people every year.


A tornado watch means “Be Prepared” as a tornado is possible. Know your safe place (storm shelter, basement, interior hall away from windows), and be sure to act quickly if a warning is issued.


A tornado warning means “Take Action!” as a tornado is happening or about to happen. Immediately take shelter in your safe place. Do not dismiss radar indicated tornado warnings, especially at dusk or at night. Dangerous conditions exist for the warning to be issued.


Winds from tornadoes can exceed 200 mph with flying debris very dangerous and most often the cause of death and injuries. Seek a study shelter in a basement, storm shelter, or interior room away from windows on the lowest floor and cover your head. Every tornado should be seen as life-threatening.


After a storm, DO NOT go near any downed power lines, and keep safety in mind when viewing storm damage in your location. PLEASE DO NOT travel around town looking at storm damage – oftentimes this increase in traffic hinders emergency responders as they go to calls for help. Local media can often show the damage better than personal viewing, and is much safer for everyone.

Sirens are tested the first Monday of the non-freezing months (April – October) at 11:00 am. If a siren fails to sound, please contact the Muscatine County Emergency manager at (563) 264-7142.


More information about the warning system can be found on the SEVERE WEATHER page on the City of Muscatine website including when the sirens sounded and what to do when you hear the sirens.


FAQ – Outdoor Weather Sirens

Muscatine County Outdoor Siren Information