This power poll is where I alienate everyone with a topic that you, dear reader, couldn’t possibly imagine anyone caring about. Are you ready? It’s time for some outdoor warning sirens!
Those of you living in the Heartland Of America surely have seen and heard these devices throughout your lives, whether they’ve startled you during their regular tests or sent you into survival mode during a tornado warning. Civil defense sirens were first used in the US by fire departments for municipal warnings, but they proliferated massively during World War II as the US prepared for air raids that never came. During the early stages of the Cold War, the Civil Defense program installed these sirens virtually everywhere that was settled. As the threat of nuclear annihilation subsided and communication systems became more sophisticated, communities adapted these systems for various purposes. On the West Coast and Hawaii, it’s a tsunami warning. Most places, however, recognize their sirens as the tornado warning sound.
This beautiful beast is my favorite siren of all time, the Federal Signal Thunderbolt. This sound unambiguously tells you that you need to take cover. Considering it was designed in the late 40’s to warn the public about an imminent nuclear threat, I’d say its sound is appropriate. The first model, the Thunderbolt 1000, was a single-tone siren, but the dual-tone sound everyone’s familiar with comes from the 1000T and 1003 models. What makes the Thunderbolt’s roar so distinctive is the Roots-type supercharger that feeds compressed air into the chopper. This results in a distorted, overdriven sound unique to this siren. I grew up with a 1000T behind my house, and its distinctive square horn was unmistakable.
With a production run spanning nearly 40 years, this siren may have been the most ubiquitous in the US for decades and there’s little disputing its greatness. Ohio State has a level of talent that is a clear cut above the rest of the conference and their dismantling of Rutgers was yet another testament to this fact. The Thunderbolt 1003 was the ultimate form of the Thunderbolt, with solenoids enabling it to perform a hi-lo tone as an option. This may be the ultimate form of the Urban Meyer Buckeyes; this team looks very complete right now.
The T 135 is the flagship model of ASC’s Tempest series. The current generation of the T 135 was launched in 2006 as a long-overdue competitor to Federal Signal’s 2001 series. Like the Badgers, American Signal Corporation is headquartered in Wisconsin. Like the Badgers, the T-135 tends to be overshadowed by a bigger brand name despite being a solid competitor in its own right.
Brought in roughly 30 years ago to bolster the conference’s influence replace the higher-maintenance Thunderbolt line, the 2001 is among the most commonly seen/heard sirens today. It is undeniably effective, but as 2001s began to replace Thunderbolts across the country, there was some backlash to the high-pitched single-tone siren that was more annoying than alarming.
Penn State has had tremendous success since joining the Big Ten even though it’s never been fully accepted culturally. Big Ten purists still aren’t fans of this weird Northeastern interloper, but it’s too successful to go away. The 2001 replaced the Thunderbolt in the product line, but not in our hearts. In fact, it was the replacement of my local Thunderbolt with a 2001 that made me care about the Thunderbolt in the first place.
The 2001’s sound is often compared to a fire truck. What’s interesting about that is that Federal Signal owns the patent to the “Fire Truck sound.” This sound is actually their Q2B siren, which is THE fire truck siren. From their product page, It’s not a fire truck unless it’s got a Q-Siren®.
Iowa defeated Iowa State in the most Kirk Ferentz Iowa way imaginable: a suffocating 13-3 win that I’m sure Kirk would rather have stayed at 6-3. Iowa has sustained an average of “fairly good” for two decades under Ferentz, so why change things?
Often found on firehouses, the Model 2 is still produced by Federal Signal today and its design has been largely unchanged since 1917. If Kirk Ferentz were a siren, this would be it.
Sentry is a bit of an outsider despite being an early stalwart in the siren business as Sterling Siren. Manchester, MI still uses a 1917 Sterling M-5 at the fire department. They were not as high volume as competitors FSC and ACA (later ASC) in the cold war boom, however, and in 1976 they moved to Colorado and renamed themselves Sentry Sirens Incorporated. Their sirens are unusual-looking and not particularly flashy, but are known for high quality and durability. The 40V2T is the two-tone variant of the most powerful of these sirens, which can be seen in scattered locations all over the Midwest and Great Plains.
Maryland 2018 is something we’re still not sure what to make of and it’s tough to definitively identify patterns due to a small sample size, but it certainly seems that they can run the ball effectively. They might not have anywhere near the clout in the Midwest that an Iowa or a Michigan State has, but for all we know they might be competitive with these teams.
The Allertor is a hell of a thing to see in person. Its lower “horn” is actually an air intake, while the top blower is the horn. This fiberglass dual-tone rotating siren was made from 1968-1981, but due to that fiberglass construction its cost was prohibitive and ACA struggled to compete with the Thunderbolt series. You’ll still see some Allertors today, and they look great in a place like Paxton, IL (look for it on the east side of I-57!) or Kalamazoo, MI. But they don’t really show up in places like Columbus or South Bend, places with bright lights and big stages.
The Whelen WPS 4004 is the first electronic siren on the list, and Whelen does not in fact make ANY mechanical sirens. This means that if you’re a siren enthusiast, you either love them or you hate them, but you can’t ignore them.
The Connecticut-based Whelen made its foray into the outdoor warning siren market in the late 1970’s and the WPS 4004 is one of its flagship outdoor warning siren products today. Featuring four 400-watt drivers, this rotating siren is capable of not just traditional siren tones but also delivering voice messages and addresses. It’s more than just a football coach. It’s a lifestyle.
Despite what their hype says, electronic sirens face more problems with long-term reliability than their mechanical counterparts and are even susceptible to blowing the speaker drivers if activated twice in a short time period. You can imagine which side of the debate I’m on.
So ACA, the forerunner to ASC, kept trying to compete with Federal Signal throughout the Cold War. This time, in the Hurricane, they decided to directly take on the mighty Thunderbolt by introducing their own supercharged siren. Like the Allertor, however, the fiberglass horn construction was considerably more expensive than the Thunderbolt’s metal and since it does the exact same thing, the Hurricane didn’t really take off. I’m only aware of about three that are still standing and operational in the country today.
A few years back, Michigan State put together a couple of teams that could go toe-to-toe with the kings of the conference in Ohio State and beat them twice. Big deal, what do you have to compete with them now?
The 3T22 was the only three-tone mechanical siren I’m aware of, and it sounds as rich and magnificent as a Big Ten runningback pounding away for over 30 carries and racking up yards like Stevie Scott. With Peyton Ramsey already having proven his capabilities, the Hoosiers could be a surprisingly complete team that can beat you in all directions.
What are you doing, Northwestern? Not only do you still have the “Pitch Count” for Thorson, you’re also throwing 50 times in a game DESPITE swapping your quarterbacks all the time! This is a silly idea.
So too was the Thunderbeam, which I recently found out debuted in 1983. I thought it was much older than that! It was only produced for around 10 years because reflecting the sound off a rotating angled disc was not only a silly idea that didn’t produce anywhere near the sound of the Thunderbolt, but proved to be an even less reliable mechanism.
This is not really a tornado siren, but instead an air raid siren produced by Chrysler and Bell powered by a 331ci V8 Hemi engine. With an extremely high maintenance cost, these were only built for five years and were not often used. They are notable for achieving a 138 dB rating at 100 feet and for carrying sound up to 25 miles. These are the Scott Frost’s arrival of sirens: big, red, and so loud it reverberates across the Great Plains.
I had to make Illinois a Federal Signal siren because Federal Signal Corporation headquarters in University Park is located right off I-57 and I always pass it on my way to or from Champaign. The Eclipse-8 is an omnidirectional siren introduced in 2006 to replace the ancient STH-10. By all means this should have been a big volume seller, but 12 years later I’ve only ever seen one in the wild.
Illinois should probably be somewhere other than rock bottom right now, but here we are a year later and I can’t say definitively that they’re better than last year.
To be fair, no amount of warning could have prepared Rutgers for the destructive force of Ohio State.
Let us know in the comments what your favorite tornado siren is! What sirens does your town have? What siren represents your team? Thousands want to know!
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