May and early June are the busiest time of the year for tornados on the High Plains. And that means many flatlanders are used to the sounds of tornado sirens in their neighborhoods. In our highly technological era, it might seem like tornado sirens have outlived their usefulness. But, as The New York Times reports, the sirens are still putting an old technology to good use. Sirens are perfect for out of the way places with spotty cell phone service, like golf courses and hiking trails. And they’re more reliable than cellphones: One siren in Maryland has been in continuous service since the 1920s.
Tornado sirens date back to the Cold War, when they were meant to alert communities to a nuclear attack or an air raid. The sirens were first converted to use as a tornado warning system in the early 1970s.
Sirens can generally be heard for a mile, though some have a sound radius of as much as two-miles.