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Insider Blog: Why outdoor warning sirens sounded in Cole County Wednesday night

"Well my wife was home last Friday when the Tornado Siren went off, and uh so it was you know similar in nature. So we were like well, I guess this is the thing, we gotta go to the basement. We don't know what's going on, but."

Dallas Ernst, a Jefferson City resident, was in his home when he heard outdoor warning sirens that, initially, had him heading for his basement. What he at first thought was a tornado warning, turned out to be a severe thunderstorm warning.

"Then the voice came on the siren and said that it was a severe thunderstorm warning and that if you're outside, to seek shelter."

He says the alert system broadcast a voice, announcing a strong storm was coming, but not a tornado.

According to the Jefferson City Police Department, who is responsible for sounding the sirens, their policy no longer reserves the outdoor alert system for Tornado Warnings. Their protocol is to activate the sirens when the National Weather Service issues a Severe Thunderstorm Warning with a "Destructive" classification.

This is exactly what the National Weather Service Recommends local officials to do in the case of a tier three, or "Destructive" classified storm.

A storm labeled "Destructive" would be expected to produce winds of at least 80 mph, or at least baseball sized hail.

Kevin Deitsch, Acting Meteorologist In Charge at  the National Weather Service St. Louis office says, "our recommendation to all of our counties has been to sound for the Tier 3 - "Destructive Warnings" which those storms in Cole County were not."

A Thunderstorm warning was issued at 9:09 p.m. for northern sections of Cole County, but it was not classified as "Destructive".

Destructive or not, Ernst says the use of outdoor warning sirens is a precedent that shouldn't be changed.

"So whenever I'm used to hearing a siren outside, the automatic thought is that it's a tornado. And so next time that I hear a siren I think that I'm probably, uh, less likely to jump to action and take action because I know that this may just be a thunderstorm warning."

But he does say he's glad that officials are pro-actively looking for steps to make the community safer.

"But I know people are doing the best they can to notify the public, and there's always room for improvement, and uh glad that people care."

Regardless of the situation around you, it's always important to have at least two ways of receiving alerts as outdoor warning sirens are only meant for those outdoors.

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John Ross

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