This is not a drill: Tornado sirens sound, but city avoids damage

In what may have been the most realistic tornado drill ever, Columbus residents took cover for about a half hour after tornado warning sirens sounded three times early Thursday afternoon.

The emergency situation began at 1:26 p.m. Thursday when Bartholomew County Emergency Management Director Shannan Hinton sent out an advisory to the county stating that the National Weather Service had issued a tornado warning for Lawrence, Brown, Monroe and Jackson counties. Hinton also reported that the particular severe thunderstorm was headed toward Bartholomew County.

Just minutes later, Hinton activated the tornado sirens when the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for western Bartholomew County, along with southeastern Brown County and northwestern Jackson County.

At 1:35 p.m., the weather service described the storm as “capable of producing a tornado” moving toward the Columbus area northeast at 60 miles per hour, which prompted Bartholomew County to set off the sirens.

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Reports on Indianapolis media stated there was “a radar-indicated tornado” in the storm line.

The sirens were set off again at 2:02 p.m. and then again at 2:07 p.m. with a tornado warning said to be continuing through 2:30 p.m. as forecasters predicted the storm was continuing to move quickly toward Columbus. But as the minutes ticked by, the storm veered more northeast than predicted, giving Columbus only a spotty heavy rainfall and no reported tornado, according to police reports.

At 2:30 p.m., the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for southeastern Bartholomew County and northwestern Jennings County as the storm skimmed south of Columbus, continuing to move northeast at 65 miles per hour.

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. responded to the warning by holding students at the schools during the tornado warning. At Columbus North High School, students took computers into the hallways while sheltering at the school in order to watch the Indiana University/Ohio State men’s basketball game during the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.

As of 3 p.m., BCSC began sending its buses with students home to begin spring break, beginning with the elementary schools.

“We don’t have any damage reports as of yet,” Hinton said after the fast-moving storm moved through the area, which she said was clocked going as fast as 70 mph as it moved through southeastern Indiana.

A video on Twitter posted by a local resident showed a wall cloud that appeared to in the shape of a funnel near the west-side Walmart, but there was no rotation showing in the video.

The National Weather Service did confirm a tornado report in Heltonville in Lawrence County, believed to be the only confirmed tornado from the storm Thursday afternoon.

“I think we got really lucky,” Hinton said of the storm’s quick passing through Bartholomew County.

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To sign up for automated alerts from Bartholomew County’s Everbridge system about approaching danger, visit the county website at or call 812-379-1500.