Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

What’s your reaction to the blare of tornado warning sirens? May 25, 2011

HOW DO YOU RESPOND to sirens warning of an approaching storm?

I’d like to know, so consider this an unscientific poll spinning off the worst outbreak of deadly tornadoes in the U.S. since 1953. Already the death toll for 2011 has surpassed 450. And we’re not even into June, the peak of tornado season, at least here in Minnesota.

Why have so many died? I haven’t researched the reasons, but some residents of Joplin, Missouri, for example, claim they didn’t hear warning sirens above the roar of the storm.

During the Sunday afternoon tornado that cut a swath through north Minneapolis, sirens failed to work in places like Hugo to the northeast in Washington County. That didn’t sit well with residents who experienced a devastating tornado in 2008.

Even if sirens blare, warning of an approaching tornado or severe thunderstorm, do residents seek shelter?

How do you react when storm warning sirens sound?

A)    Immediately seek shelter in the basement.

B)     Step outside to look at the sky.

C)    Turn on the television or radio or go online for weather updates.

D)    Ignore the sirens.

E)     None of the above. Explain.

Please cast your vote and share your comments.

Not to influence your vote or anything, but I generally choose A. I possess a healthy, deep respect for storms, specifically tornadoes. That stems from growing up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, near Tracy, a small town devastated by a June 13, 1968, tornado that killed nine and injured 150. The destruction of that F5  (261 – 318 mph winds) tornado, which I saw firsthand, left a lasting impression upon me.

Fortunately, I don’t panic like I once did when storm sirens sound. After I became a mother and realized that my panic was impacting my children, frightening them more than they needed to be frightened, I reigned in my fears. They didn’t need to know that I was afraid.

Other family members may disagree with that current assessment of my reaction to foreboding storms. My 17-year-old son, for example, surmised that I have an overactive imagination when I called him to the window Sunday afternoon to view ominous clouds that I thought might be swirling into a tornado. He actually laughed at me.

However, when storm watches, and especially warnings, are issued, I listen.  And when sirens sound, I prepare to take shelter.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


10 Responses to “What’s your reaction to the blare of tornado warning sirens?”

  1. Bernie Says:

    C,B,A I saw my first tornado last year here in Billings. It hit only a few miles from our house. In Montana most folks don’t have a basement. Our older neighbor across the ditch does, so we went to his house to wait it out. The tornado took out a good part of our local Arena. They are still rebuilding. I was so scared when I could actually SEE it.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Yikes, that was too close for comfort. Good to hear you had a place to seek shelter.

      I saw a tornado once as a child, just across the field. After I had grown up and moved away from home, a tornado hit our farm destroying a silo and the silo room, ripping a railing from the house and upturning wagons in the field. My Dad would typically have been in the barn milking cows when the storm hit, but was gone to pick up my sister from a nearby town.

      My mom was home alone, was closing house windows when something flew by and then she headed to the basement.

  2. Lanae Says:

    I’ve probably already been standing outside with neighbors or coworkers checking out the weather. When the sirens go off, I’m in the basement with my fat cat who doesn’t really want to be there. We have a tv in the basement so I try to watch the news, but it is satellite soo… it goes out in bad weather. My husband laughs when I hit the basement. I have seen more than one tornado and the damage of others.
    Be safe. Pray and then pray again.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Dear prairie sister, you are wise. The Iowa husband, not so much when it comes to heeding storm warnings.

      And about that prayer, excellent idea.

  3. Amy Says:

    C, B, A, in that order. The county I live in is so huge that sometimes they segment the sirens, sometimes they don’t.

  4. Kristin Says:

    I’m afraid to say I’d go outside. Of course, I don’t have a basement.

  5. Theresa Says:

    My family goes in the basement immediately, but we bring a portable radio to listen to storm updates. If it’s a warning, it’s immediately a basement-go!

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