National Weather Service to conduct statewide tornado drill Wednesday

Carol Thompson
The Detroit News

Radios, televisions and cellphones across Michigan might beep with alerts on Wednesday afternoon, but don't be alarmed, it will only be a test.

The National Weather Service will conduct a statewide tornado drill at 1 p.m. to test its emergency alert systems and remind Michiganians to have a plan for severe weather. The drill is part of the agency's Severe Weather Awareness Week.

"It's an opportunity for everyone to come together and organize a practice for severe weather in general and tornadoes in particular, say schools and hospitals and even individual households," said Bryan Tilley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service station in Pontiac. "And also for the weather infrastructure. It gives us a chance to test out our communications with all of those entities so that if something happens, we are sure we can get the word out."

A storm develops in Hillsdale on Sept. 7, 2021.

The National Weather Service alerts media and county emergency management offices about severe weather. County officials then disseminate the warnings and decide whether to activate tools such as emergency sirens. 

Participation in the statewide drill is voluntary, Tilley said, but he said schools often participate. 

"It gives us a chance to see how all of those interconnected parts are working and make sure everyone’s ready for the warm season, when thunderstorms become a lot more common and severe weather is more possible," Tilley said.

Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes often hit Metro Detroit in May and June, Tilley said, although the weather events can continue through the fall. Warm, humid air and strong winds intensify storm systems.

A series of tornadoes touched down in Genesee, Oakland and northern Macomb counties last summer, devastating communities hit by the strong winds that left 125,000 without power. 

Storms knocked downed poles and wires at Armada Center Road on July 25, 2021, in front of the Armada Middle School after a tornado touched down the day before.

To stay safe during a severe thunderstorm or tornado, people should stay in interior rooms away from windows on the lowest floor possible. That could include hallways in apartment complexes, especially if units don't have interior rooms.

Tilley also suggested people keep flashlights, spare batteries, nonperishable food and water available in case of emergencies.