Thursday, August 19, 2010

False Alarm

Around the time Maureen got home from work today, the air was filled with the horrible wailing siren of the tornado warning that is on top of a big pole a little less than half a mile from our home. Should we have run downstairs in terror? Of course not - it was sunny and warm outside without a breeze in the air. There weren't even any dark clouds on the horizon. Someone must have fallen asleep and hit their head on the "turn on the tornado alarm" button as their head drifted downward into dreamland.

This misappropriation of tornado warnings has been increasing and increasingly annoying over the past couple of years, but seems to have really peaked this year. At least three or four times over the past few months, the Northville sirens have gone off in situations in which any reasonable person with or without a degree in meteorology would not have any concern regarding getting sucked away in a funnel cloud (which, truthfully, is one of my biggest unrealistic fears in life. Like if I actually got sucked into a tornado, would I fly around in circles for awhile and then be deposited in some random location hundreds of feet away from my home? Do I hit flying debris while circling around in the funnel cloud? Do you have time to consider your circumstances?) Someone was telling me recently that these errant sirens are a function of the way cities and municipalities have changed their approach to setting off tornado sirens. Not too long ago, a city would not set off the siren unless someone actually spotted a tornado or the formation of a funnel cloud. Because of this, when these alarms went off, I would be huddled in the basement with my family playing some board game waiting for at least 30 minutes after the cessation of the siren before getting back to normal life at the level of the earth dwellers.

Now, though, cities set off their alarms if a condition or series of conditions is met (barometric pressure changing by a certain amount over a certain length of time, measured wind speeds of a certain level, etc.). This is absurd and terribly frustrating because now every time I hear the noise it's kind of like the boy who cried wolf, and if one day I don't go downstairs (as I mostly don't budge now) and I do get sucked away by a tornado, I would be super pissed at myself before I smash into a barn. Worse would be if Maureen got sucked away and I would be responsible for all of the mechanical fixes in the house from then on. That would be disaster on at least two levels.

While on the subject of exaggerated warnings, is every center of a thunderstorm now magenta? Before, only the rarest of strong storms encroached on the red/magenta space, and now my farts have been measured as magenta. This is like a worse version of grade inflation, because how I am I to know if I have actually experienced a severe storm or not? Magenta validation used to be the greatest kind of validation - "man, that storm I was in was freaking MAGENTA. You only got green. Suck it green." Get it together, meteorologists. You are encouraging the wussification of America.


Jeff said...

Outstanding blog. I moved from Dallas TX to Macomb last week and was stunned when the sirens started this evening. There are few, if any, basements in Texas (crappy soil) and most of the tornados are long-lived beast. I have been conditioned to dive into a bathtub as soon as the sirens start, however today I played it cool knowing I was only seconds from being underground. Plenty of sirens, but no tornado. "False Alarm"

Ken said...

Thanks for the positive words. I'm not sure why you moved from Dallas to the great state of Michigan, but let me just say Welcome (or Welcome Back)! As you are certainly aware by now, Michigan is a fantastic place to be.

Stay out of those funnel clouds.

Aunt Cathie said...

Are you sure that some of the sirens weren't just tests? Novi runs a siren test on the first Saturday of most months at 1 PM.

Ken said...

Fair question about the test alarms, but the ones that have been the most annoying are definitely not the first Saturday of the month 1pm testers. On this note, I think the alarms need to be tested max once every other month. Less alarms!