Severe weather in West Michigan stirs siren debate

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As crews continued to clean up storm damage near her home at 3rd Street and Pine Avenue on Grand Rapids’ West Side, resident Kathy McDiarmid recalled the winds that caused it.

“It was pretty crazy,” McDiarmid said.

She heard the severe weather warning sirens in her neighborhood Wednesday night, but she was already prepared for the approaching storm.

“I have a weather radio and I also have The Weather Channel app on my phone,” McDiarmid said.

Wednesday night’s storms stirred up the debate we hear when Mother Nature stirs up the weather — just how reliable are weather warning sirens? 

When it comes to the 130 severe weather warning sirens in Kent County, it appears to be working.

But in some cases, it sounded off when the bad weather was already knocking at the front door.

“Our warnings over here is sometimes fairly short. We have the lake, that’s a buffer and it’s very hard to know what’s happening over the lake. It’s not until it hits landfall that we have a better idea what’s going on,” said Lt. Lou Hunt, director of Kent County Emergency Management. 

When the weather service or trained spotters witness dangerous conditions, a button on a computer screen at the Kent County Dispatch Center sets off the sirens in communities outside of Grand Rapids.

City dispatchers have a similar setup.

The sirens are checked the first Friday of every month, April through October.

But there are several reasons you may not have heard them.

Vehicles and many homes are more soundproof these days and sirens can’t cover every square mile of the county.

Emergency management officials stress that the sirens are just one option when it comes to keeping you safe.

“I would say don’t rely on any one thing — have redundancy,” Hunt said.

Those redundancies can range from phone apps to good old fashion TV weather reports.

“NOAA weather radios would be another good example. Social media is one way people get that information,” Hunt said.

When there is a severe weather watch, which means conditions are favorable for bad weather, be ready to act.

“Because a watch can quickly turn in to a warning. We saw how quickly that can change,” Hunt said.

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