Iowa counties do not have uniform policy for sounding outdoor warning sirens

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) This week's storms prompted some emergency outdoor warning sirens to go off in parts of eastern Iowa, leading to many people calling their local emergency management offices to find out why they were sounding with no reports of tornadoes.

An outdoor warning siren in Linn County on August 21, 2019 (Jordee Kalk/KCRG)

Counties in Iowa determine their own rules for when those sirens sound. Many, including Linn and Johnson County, follow the warnings put put by the National Weather Service.

Those guidelines include sounding a siren if a tornado warning is issued by the National Weather Service or a trained spotter reports a tornado or funnel cloud. The sirens also go off if golf ball-sized hail is expected, or if wind gusts are expected to top 70 miles per hour.

That threshold was reached in yesterday morning's severe thunderstorm warning in Johnson county, so the sirens were sounded.

Steve O'Konek, Linn County's Emergency Management Coordinator, said the audible alerts are truly meant for people who are outside and may not know dangerous weather is approaching.

"You may not have your cell phone with you you may be out boating or bike riding, running or whatever when you hear the sirens," O'Konek said. "It's meant for people outside to go inside and seek shelter and then turn on local news stations and figure out what's actually going on."

The changes to the police to sound sirens for wind speeds are fairly recent.

Johnson County decided to change the rules after a Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School teacher died in May 2011. Jennifer Lewis was camping at Lake MacBride when a quick-moving storm moved through, and a tree fell onto her tent, killing her.