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St. Croix County's siren system shifts

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Emergency management officials have heard the complaints through the years.

If the sky is sunny, why are the storm warning sirens sounding in town?

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When a storm or tornado warning has been issued for St. Croix County, current policies require that every one of the 25 warning sirens in the county be sounded. This summer that will change.

According to Casey Swetlik, director of St. Croix County emergency support services, officials have now split the county into four quadrants. When threatening weather approaches, Swetlik said, sirens will only be sounded in the quadrants that are in the direct path of the storm.

"This should help to minimize the number of times that sirens are activated in an area of the county that's unaffected by the storm," he said.

The boundaries of the quadrants follow County Road E (east to west) and County Road T (north to south). The communities in quadrant #1 will be Hudson, North Hudson, Roberts and Hammond. In quadrant #2 will be Somerset, Star Prairie, New Richmond and Deer Park. In quadrant #3 will be Deer Park and Glenwood City. In quadrant #4 will be Hammond, Baldwin and Woodville.

While the sirens located in Hammond and Deer Park will be assigned to multiple quadrants (because of their proximity to the quadrant boundaries) their sirens will only be activated once for each event.

The National Weather Service went to a geographically-based warning system in 2008, but St. Croix County chose not to implement the change.

According to Swetlik, the county was not willing to accept the potential liability of not warning everyone in the county when a storm or tornado warning was issued for St. Croix County.

Things have changed since then, Swetlik said, and the National Weather Service's warning system is now much more precise and reliable.

"Over the course of the last five years, they've polished their approach," he said.

With the new "storm-based" approach to the sounding of sirens, Swetlik said county residents will hopefully become less complacent when warnings are issued.

When someone hears a siren now, he explained, it means they should seek shelter immediately and turn on the radio or television to find out what's happening.

He noted that people need to "get in and tune in" when severe weather sirens go off.

The new quadrant system isn't the only change in the warning system this year.

Wisconsin will be participating in a 14-state project called "impact-based warnings," which takes the traditional tornado warning system and breaks it down into three tiers.

"Tier 1" will be the most common type of warning and represents when a tornado is possible based on the radar data.

"Tier 2" represents a particularly dangerous situation and will warn of expected damage that will promote urgency to seek immediate shelter.

A "Tier 3" will represent a potentially violent tornado and is most likely to produce devastating damage.

"Ninety to 98 percent of the storms will be Tier 1," Swetlik said.

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