In an effort to combat "siren fatigue," Dakota County is likely to sound its weather sirens less often.
Outdoor sirens typically have been activated during tornado warnings and any severe thunderstorm warnings, which meant the sirens were used 96 times from 2010 to 2014.
But under a new policy recommended by the National Weather Service, the county's sirens will be activated only during tornado warnings and for storms where wind speed is expected to hit 70 miles per hour or more. If that policy had been used over the past five years, Dakota County would have reduced siren use by 75 percent.
Other metro counties already follow this policy. The NWS based the recommendation on more accurate weather forecasting and technology combined with information regarding wind damage.
But local police and fire officials could activate the sirens anytime they feel it's in the interest of public safety, such as when a funnel cloud is spotted even though a warning has not yet been issued. Dakota County officials said those situations are rare.
Officials warn residents to take the sirens seriously even if it appears there's no storm in the area. Advanced technology allows the Weather Service to issue warnings before the storm approaches.
"If you hear sirens where you are, you should go inside and get more information from your television, Internet, radio or smartphone and take appropriate action," according to county officials.
Mary Lynn Smith