WeatherWhys Blog

Why can’t we have tornado detectors in every home?

Why can’t we have tornado detectors in every home?

Everyone has a smoke detector in their house. It is “code”. Twice a year, when Daylight time starts and ends, we are all expected to check batteries in our smoke detectors. In many states, carbon monoxide detectors are also required by building code, or soon will be. These devices are mandated to ensure that a potentially catastrophic and imminent threat is clearly and automatically announced. It guarantees (when properly used) that the inhabitants are warned. What they do next is up to them, but at the very least they have been duly notified of a life threatening fire or odorless gas. They are simple and ubiquitous ceiling (or wall) embellishments that play an important background roll.

Noting their straightforward simplicity, why then can’t we have “tornado detectors” in every home? These devices would not give detailed text messages. They wouldn’t speak words. They would only sound a unique alarm, distinguishable from the smoke alarm. How does this happen? How would it know a tornado is nearby? Well, unlike the other detectors that physically sense the presence of smoke or CO, this device would receive a specific signal from a cell tower. A private company will have developed software that instantly fills in all geopoints within a Tornado Warning polygon, so that whenever the local National Weather Service Forecast Office issues a Tornado polygon, applicable spots in the region receive the signal. A GPS initialization will be required for the instrument and they would have to be within cell coverage. Perhaps this tornado detector could even be included together with the smoke detector, a package. Let’s include CO detection as well while we’re at it in the package (although CO detectors may need to be placed at a different level in the home). And while on the subject of automatic warnings for external threats to life and property, how about an “Earthquake Detector” for placement where earthquakes have a nasty recurrence probability. It has been shown that with the current seismic network in place, realistic warnings of the secondary wave are possible for up to a minute or more. In large events, those few seconds could prove pivotal. Of course, a cell tower delivery approach may not be instant enough when seconds count.

No one would say these ideas are bad, nor are they impossible. But pulling together current technology in a way that makes it workable might take some time. Then there is the cost. However, this is not rocket science. Perhaps the biggest hurdle would be codifying the detectors as a mandate in all occupied structures, including commercial buildings throughout tornado country. But for the time being, let’s at least talk about it.