The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) dictates the tone of the fire and tornado whistles.

The fire whistle is stationary and has a varying tone that sounds like it goes up and down. The tornado sirens have a steady tone, but they rotate around. The fire whistle is no longer sounded as an “all clear” after the tornado threat is over; listen to the television or radio for the all clear.

The following tornado safety information was obtained from the Michigan Department of State Police Emergency Management Division:

  • A tornado/severe thunderstorm watch is issued whenever conditions exist for severe weather to develop. Watches give you time to plan and prepare, keep an eye to the sky and listen for further weather bulletins. A tornado/severe thunderstorm warning is issued by the National Weather Service whenever a tornado or severe thunderstorm actually has been sighted or is strongly indicated by radar. You should act immediately and seek shelter when you first hear the warning.
  • A tornado is a column of violently rotating winds extending down from a thunderstorm cloud and touching the surface of the earth. A funnel cloud basically is a tornado that does not touch ground.
  • Where should you seek shelter? If you are home, a basement offers the greatest safety. Seek shelter under heavy furniture if possible. If there is no basement, take cover in the center of the house, on the lowest floor, in a small room such as a bathroom or closet. If you are in a mobile home, go to a prearranged substantial shelter. If you are driving a vehicle, get out of the vehicle. Find shelter in a basement, ditch or ravine away from the vehicle. If you are at work or school, follow advance plans to move to interior hallways or small rooms at lowest level.
  • Avoid areas with glass and wide, free span roofs.
  • If you are in open country, get to a sturdy building if possible, or lie in a ditch or depression. Hold onto something attached to the ground if possible.

Tornado Facts:

  1. Each year, Michigan averages 16 tornadoes. In the last 45 years, approximately 240 people were killed due to Michigan Tornadoes
  2. Tornadoes can occur anytime during the day or night, and during any month of the year. Most tornadoes occur during the months of April, May, June, and July; usually in the late afternoon or early evening hours between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
  3. Tornadoes usually travel from the southwest at an average speed of 30 miles per hours, although some tornadoes follow erratic patterns with speeds approaching 70 miles per hour.
  4. Tornadoes that develop from early season thunderstorms tend to be the most severe.
  5. The average tornado travels a distance of around five miles and is on the ground less than ten minutes. Tornadoes don't always follow the norm and have been known to ravel 100 miles and stay on the ground for over an hour.
  6. The average width of a tornado as it touches the ground is 200-400 yards, but may be up to a mile across.
  7. Tornadoes usually rotate counter-clockwise. Typical Michigan tornadoes produce winds of 17-125 miles per hour.
  8. The greatest frequency of tornadoes occurs with temperatures between 70-75 degrees, and relative high humidity.
  9. Tornadoes do their destructive work through the combined action of strong rotary winds, flying debris, and the partial vacuum in their center.

The City of St. Johns tests its tornado sirens the first Saturday of the month from April to September.