When disaster strikes, you may have only a short time to make what might be a life or death decision. Even though it is rare, catastrophic events such as tornadoes or major chemical releases do occur. We cannot predict exactly where or when they will occur, but you can take precautions to minimize the danger.
One of the most important things you can do is to be aware that a danger is present. For this reason, it is important that you understand the warning system.
The Dane County Warning System
The Dane County warning system consists of multiple components. We recognize that no one application can provide warning to all citizens. As a result, we take a systematic approach, understanding the advantages and limitations of each component. The links on these pages describe the system and provide information the options available to you.
Severe Weather Watches and Warnings
Typically, the National Weather Service is responsible for issuing all severe weather alerts. The National Weather Service, when issuing severe weather alerts, uses the terms “Watch” and “Warning.” Knowing the difference between a “Watch” and a “Warning” is very important.
When conditions are favorable for severe weather to develop, the National Weather Service will issue a “Watch.” When a severe weather watch is issued, you should be alert for changes in the weather and be prepared to act quickly.
Take a Watch seriously. Even though severe weather may not be imminent, watches are issued to give you a heads-up that conditions may be changing. Be aware of your surroundings. A watch being issued is also a good reminder to check on warning devices to assure they are working properly.
National Weather Service meteorologists use information from weather radar as well as a network of trained spotters to issue severe weather warnings. A “Warning” means that severe weather is actually occurring or is imminent. For example, a Tornado Warning means that the National Weather Service’s Doppler radar is detecting wind circulation that could produce a tornado. Tornado Warnings are also issued if trained spotters have actually sighted a tornado or specific indicators of a tornado. You should take immediate steps to protect yourself when a “Warning” of any type is issued.
Following significant storm events, people often report that the storm hit “with no warning.” This is tragic, but it is only very rarely true. Major storm events are usually preceded by a Watch issued hours in advance, and a Warning issued when dangerous weather is imminent. Advance warning time is available, if people receive the information and take appropriate action.
The warning system can only be effective if you actually receive the information. There are a great deal of warning devices and methods available to you. We recommend that you take advantage of as many of them as possible. No single warning method is perfect and no warning method can be guaranteed never to fail.
Have a back-up! By relying on one single method, such as the sounding of the outdoor warning sirens or the receiving information solely from broadcast meteorologists, you risk missing a warning if that system fails. By taking a systematic approach and getting information from more than one source, you are much more likely to receive the warning, even if there is a failure in one of the components.
We strongly recommend that you consider the following:
- Do something to assure that you are able to receive warning information when issued.
- Have a backup. (Nothing works perfectly, 100% of the time.)
- Purchase and use a weather alert radio if you don't already have one.
- Rely on the sirens only for outdoor warning.
- Verify that the Wireless Emergency Alert feature is enabled on your smart phone.
- Set up a weather warning app on your smart phone.
- Turn to broadcast radio or television for details and follow-up information.
- Register to receive alerts on your cell phone, text, and e-mail at: Sign up for Dane County Alerts
- Follow us on Twitter (@DaneCountyEM) and like us on Facebook (Dane County Emergency Management)
Please contact Dane County Emergency Management if you have any questions about the County's warning system or would like additional information on available options.