Witnesses say sirens didn't sound prior to stormby Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio,
Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — Tornado sirens in Minneapolis did not go off until after a reported tornado hit today, leaving some residents angry and confused.
The Hennepin County Sheriff's office, the agency responsible for sounding the sirens, said they received no information from the National Weather Service prior to the tornado hitting south Minneapolis.
Lisa Kiava, spokesperson for the Sheriff's office, said that the department's dispatch center in Golden Valley sounded the sirens after fire personnel reported seeing a tornado at 46th St. and Portland Ave. S.
Kiava said the sirens were sounded at 2:12 p.m. in Minneapolis, but residents in some of the hardest-hit areas say they didn't hear any sirens until 10 to 20 minutes after the tornado had passed.
"It was unreal," said Michelle Neal, who lives in an apartment building on the 2400 block of 4th Ave. S. "We could have died."
Neal said she drove a few blocks away to McDonald's just a few minutes before the tornado hit. "Here I am out in it, going to get an Angus Burger at McDonald's. McDonald's saved me."
Kiava said that sirens in north Hennepin County were sounded at 2:20 p.m., after the National Weather Service called the Sheriff's office dispatch line.
Shane Gillespie, who lives in the same Minneapolis apartment building as Neal, said, "I heard a loud noise, it got louder and louder, I heard the roof coming up, it was the most weirdest sound I ever heard in my life. My heart was beating so fast, I realized it was a tornado, I dived as fast as I could into my bathtub."
Gillespie said he expected that if a tornado were about to hit, sirens would go off. Since he had never experienced a tornado before, he said, he did not know the warning signs.
"I never thought it would sound like that," he said. "I thought there would be lightning."
The Sheriff's Office sounds the sirens either when the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning or sighting, or if first responders or other trained officials spot a tornado, Kiava said. The sirens are intended to provide an outdoor warning, not to alert people indoors, she said.
Kiava said the tornado hit suddenly, without warning. "There are limitations to the technology that the National Weather Service has to give us warning," she said. "There are times when weather develops very quickly that you have to use your own judgment."
Minnesota Public Radio meteorologist Paul Huttner said this was not a classic severe weather situation.
"It was unusual in that the tornadoes popped up in a large area of rain showers, not a classic tornado supercell type storm," he said. "The first tornado that formed near 35W and Lake Street in Minneapolis was difficult to see on radar.
"There was not a classic hook echo on radar until several minutes later."
Huttner said the tornado was obscured by heavy rain as it approached from the south, making it difficult to see as it approached.
Madeleine Baran is a general assignment reporter for MPR News.