When Hurricane Florence hits South Carolina, National Weather Service forecaster Jeff Linton says residents should be on the watch for tornadoes. So, does the Columbia area have an outdoor siren system to warn residents about tornadoes?
No, according to Richland County Emergency Services.
South Carolinians are warned about weather emergencies through National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio alerts, commercial radio broadcasts or television and online updates. And, of course, through your phones.
Some areas of South Carolina have tornado sirens, but they’re few and far between, says Derrec Becker of the South Carolina Emergency Management Division.
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But SC does have another kind of siren. The most common type of outdoor alert system in the state are alarms that would go off related to nuclear power plant incidents, Becker says.
Why don’t Columbia or most of the state have those outside screaming warning signals for cyclones? Becker has a simple answer.
“In 2018, sirens are an ineffective warning,” Becker says.
Even more than a decade ago, experts were saying the same thing about tornado sirens.
In a 2003 article in The State a local weather forecaster reported that sirens “are not the best answer for alerting the public of tornado warnings.”
The article said, “The main problem with the sirens is that, because they are set up at local levels, there is no consistency among communities as to what the various tones mean. When someone visits, or relocates, they will find the tone for a tornado warning might mean something completely different here, thus causing confusion at times. Public sirens are also quite expensive to maintain.”
South Carolina has averaged 11 tornadoes each year since 1950, resulting in 47 fatalities and 1,057 injuries, according to the state Emergency Management Division website. South Carolina ranks 26th in the United States in the number of tornado strikes, and 18th in the number of tornadoes per square mile. The most common type of tornado, the relatively weak and short-lived type, occurs between March and May. However, tornadoes can occur almost anywhere at anytime, the SCEMD says.