Severe Weather Safety

Severe weather presents one of the most common hazardous conditions in the Cincinnati area.  Fortunately, with proper precautions and preparations, the risk to life and limb can be minimized.  This page will provide some useful guidelines that will help you prepare your own severe weather action and safety plans.

Terminology:

Watch – A cautionary statement issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) to alert the public that a particular type of hazardous weather is possible.  Usually issued for large areas for relatively long periods of time (~6 hours).

Warning  – An urgent message issued by the NWS indicating that a hazardous weather condition is occurring or imminent.  Generally issued for a single county for shorter time periods.

Severe Thunderstorm – A thunderstorm producing winds in excess of 58 MPH and/or hail of 3/4″ or larger.

Tornado – A violently rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm and in contact with the ground.

Flood – An accumulation of water in a normally dry area.  Some type of flood are Flash, River, Small Streams and Urban.  Whatever the type, floods pose a grave danger to life and property, accounting for many deaths annually.


The first line of defense against severe weather should be a NOAA Weather Radio warning alarm receiver.  These commonly available receivers incorporate features that allow them to be activated by the NWS when severe weather threatens.

In areas that have radio coverage by the NOAA Weather Radio System, this presents the best option for personal safety.  In fact, the system is improving with more capabilities and faster warnings.  The newer generation S.A.M.E. technology radios allow you to select which counties and which types of alerts you want to receive.  Most have battery backup to continue operation if power goes out.  This eliminates hearing warnings for areas that are of no interest to you.  Hopefully, this will reduce the number of radios that get turned off after hearing too many alarms.  Also, with the National Weather Service’s NWR 2000, all warnings will automatically be transmitted by computer, reducing the amount of time it takes to get the warnings on the air.

Some people have complained that they have not been able to find the codes necessary to program these new radios.  If you need the local S.A.M.E. codes, click here Cincinnati Area S.A.M.E. Weather Radio Codes.


Image of outdoor warning sirenAn outdoor warning siren system is just that, an OUTDOOR WARNING SYSTEM.  It should not be depended on as the primary warning system for indoors.  New construction methods, terrain, location and storm related power outages can all reduce the sound level of the sirens to a point they cannot be heard indoors.  Other emergency managers have echoed this message.

That being said, the siren system does provide an important adjunct to alert people who are outdoors to an approaching hazardous weather condition.

Here are some important notes on outdoor warning sirens:

  1. Hamilton County tests the outdoor warning siren system once a month.  These tests occur at 12:00 noon on the first Wednesday.  The steady tone and wavering tone are each tested for one minute.
  2. The steady tone is used to warn of severe weather.  There are two situations that will trigger the sounding of the sirens:
    1. A Tornado Warning for Hamilton County.
    2. A Severe Thunderstorm Warning for Hamilton County while under a Tornado Watch.  This is the source of much confusion.  This is felt to be the safest approach, because when conditions are favorable for tornadoes as evidenced by the issuance of a watch, a severe thunderstorm can produce a tornado with little or no further warning.  In any case, immediate action should be taken to safeguard lives.
  3. The wavering tone is only used to warn of enemy attack.

Here are some links to some Cincinnati area severe weather resources.

Cincinnati Area Severe Weather Spotters
Wilmington, OH National Weather Service