Winds of change: Tornado warning system meets new technology

Linda Gallagher, Contributing Writer

Photo by Linda Gallagher

The tornado siren in downtown Bellaire, which was silent along with the area’s other tornado sirens last week during Michigan’s “statewide” tornado drill. Due to limited effectiveness and high costs, tornado sirens are being replaced, and instead replaced with instant mass notification systems in both Antrim and Kalkaska counties. 


REGION – The spring tornado season is looming as outdoor temperatures warm and winds increase. To address that pending situation, the Michigan State Police, Emergency Management, and Division of Homeland Security last week held a statewide tornado warning drill.

With widespread media notification, citizens throughout the state prepared themselves to hear the sound of shrill tornado sirens at precisely 1 p.m. on Wednesday, March 27. 

But in both Antrim and Kalkaska counties the appointed hour came, and went, but all was quiet. 

In Antrim County, the once familiar sirens often heard at noon on certain days of the month in many villages are no longer operable, for the most part.

"As far as I know, only Elk Rapids still has an operable siren, but it's not used for tornado or disaster warnings," said Antrim County Emergency Management Director Leslie Meyers. "The Elk Rapids siren is only used to call volunteer fire fighters to the station.

"The siren in Bellaire, which is on top of the Sheriff Office's storage garage and owned by Antrim County, hasn't worked in many years, and the Village of Mancelona's siren hasn't worked since 2015," Meyers said. "And I'm not certain that Ellsworth or Central Lake have ever had sirens."

Believed to have arrived in the county as excess surplus after World War II, the range that a siren can be heard always presented a problem, Meyers explained, due to the hilly and forested topography of Antrim County, and can't be heard in most of the county's rural areas.

But she did note, "On a good day, they say the Elk Rapids siren can be heard as far as Torch River."

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