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COLUMBUS — Emergency warning sirens in Bartholomew County will sound when a tornado warning is issued, but not during a tornado watch or severe thunderstorm warning.
The Columbus Board of Works approved a change in the siren policy Tuesday, and it becomes effective immediately.
The previous policy had required emergency dispatchers to activate the sirens when the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning — and when a tornado watch was issued during a severe thunderstorm warning.
But officials were concerned that the public had become confused by the sirens because of how often they sound during severe weather, and that residents were ignoring the sirens when they should be seeking shelter.
The sirens were activated last year six times by tornado warnings and six times for tornado watches during severe thunderstorm warnings. So far this year, the sirens have been activated once for a tornado warning and six times for tornado watches during thunderstorm warnings.
The change in policy requires county emergency dispatchers to activate the sirens when a tornado warning is issued. The sirens also will sound when a trained weather spotter, police officer or firefighter spots a funnel cloud.
The National Weather Service issues a tornado warning when a tornado has been spotted in the area or indicated by weather radar. A tornado watch is issued to alert the public of the possibility of a tornado developing in the area. The watch does not mean a tornado has been spotted but that conditions are favorable for tornadoes to occur.
A severe thunderstorm warning is issued when a storm is capable of producing damaging surface winds in excess of 58 mph or hail of at least three-quarters of an inch in diameter.
The last time a tornado touched down in Bartholomew County was Nov. 15, 2005, according to the National Weather Service. The tornado — an F0 with winds of 40 to 72 mph — formed near a farm on Road 800N, about two miles northwest of Hope, and grew to an F3 before leaving the ground about 10 miles away in Shelby County.
The city sets the policy for tornado sirens because it owns 14 of the emergency sirens and purchased the warning equipment installed at the Bartholomew County 911 Center. Hope, which also has a siren, and Jonesville, which is considering joining the system, likely will agree to follow the city’s policy, officials said. The 14 city-owned sirens are within city limits.
City officials also are working to identify safe locations that are open 24 hours a day for residents of the three mobile home parks in city limits.
Mayor Kristen Brown said she wanted to encourage residents to prepare disaster plans and create disaster kits that include food and water ready in the event of a tornado or other disaster.
The tornado sirens will continue to be tested at noon on the first Friday of each month, unless there is the possibility of severe weather on the day of the test.
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