Here's how Michigan's statewide weather alert system works

·4 min read

Would you know what to do if tornado weather threatened your home in Michigan?

It’s a realistic situation to consider following Friday's deadly tornado in Gaylord. Michigan has an average of 15 tornadoes a year, typically in late spring and early summer, according to the Michigan State Police MIREADY office.

The average lead time for a tornado warning is 10 to 15 minutes with today’s forecasting and communication technology, but in many cases, there will be a heads-up from the National Weather Service through a forecast or watch a few hours earlier that such weather is possible.

Because of the severity of damage that tornadic winds will cause, residents and visitors are encouraged to learn about, prepare for such storms and make a plan on what to do as they enjoy spring and summer activity.

The state of Michigan, in cooperation with local authorities, hosts a Severe Weather Awareness campaign each spring to remind residents of the risks of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. In addition, the National Weather Service hosts “weather spotter” classes every year in Michigan to explain to the public visible signs of such weather through charts, photos and video clips.

The following announcements are used during tornado season:

  • Tornado watch: Tornadoes are possible in your area. Remain alert for approaching storms, make a plan on what to do. Depending on the forecast, a watch with the more severe “Particularly Dangerous Situation” phrasing may be issued. A watch typically is in effect for a few hours and may include multiple counties.

  • Tornado warning: A tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar in your area. This is a call to take shelter immediately. A warning is a shorter time frame than a watch, and for a specific area. Depending on the circumstances, a tornado warning may be upgraded to a more severe tornado emergency alert.

More: How to prepare for strong storms in Michigan

How to get weather alerts

State officials encourage Michigan residents and visitors to learn about the alert systems that are active where they live, work or visit so to have as much notice as possible. Those options include:

  • Wireless emergency alerts: This is a national alert system that started about 10 years ago to send an alarm and a short emergency message to cellphones and other mobile devices in a given geographic area. It has been used to alert Michigan residents of tornado warnings.

  • NOAA Weather Radio: This is a national network of radio stations that broadcast severe weather alerts and other National Weather Service information. A special receiver is needed to listen, although in some cases a car radio or marine radio can tune in to the weather frequency. Many of these devices will sound an alarm tone when a warning is issued.

  • Federal Emergency Management Agency mobile app: Free to download and use; and once installed on a phone or other mobile device, it can be programmed to show alerts for multiple locations.

  • Local emergency management alert system: Some of Michigan’s county emergency management agencies and municipalities have text-based, email or phone call systems meant to alert the public of emergency situations. Sign-up information will be on local government websites.

  • Radio and TV stations: Find out which broadcast stations report on or air the emergency alert system messages for the county you live in or are visiting.

  • Outdoor sirens: A siren system, where one is active, is meant to get attention for those who may be outside. Emergency officials urge people who hear the sirens to seek out announcements and instructions through other means such as broadcast stations, NOAA Weather Radio and mobile apps.

What to do during severe weather

Take shelter. Recommended shelter options during a tornado warning are a basement, storm cellar or a specially-designed “safe room” area. If there is not a designated shelter, people should move to the lowest level of a sturdy building, staying away from doors and windows.

Plan ahead with a disaster kit. Emergency officials urge the public to prepare a disaster kit in advance with supplies such as a flashlight or battery-powered lantern, a first aid kit, an emergency radio and fresh batteries to power their devices. For ideas on what to pack in a kit, go to https://www.ready.gov/kit.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan statewide weather alert system: How it works