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Storm Ready: New Tools Keeping Stateliners Safe in Tornado Season

STEPHENSON CO. -- Severe weather rolls through the stateline bringing with it a tornado warning.
STEPHENSON CO.  -- Severe weather rolls through the stateline bringing with it a tornado warning. Sirens sounded in Stephenson County Tuesday afternoon, but new tools are keeping stateliners alert and safe.

Firefighters were on stand by Tuesday afternoon as dark storms rolled through the stateline. Weather watchers snapped pictures in Stephenson County. In one, you can clearly see what looks to be a tornado on the ground. At  Tony Honchar's house in Freeport, the scene wasn't quite so eventful.

"Really just saw light rain falling and ominous clouds but nothing really that out of the ordinary," said Honchar.

Honchar wasn't the only one with his eyes to the sky. Winnebago county officials were watching too and doing it with a new tool.

"In Stephenson County they had the tornado warning there, so we were able to watch the whole western edge of our county in anticipation of that coming our way," said Jerry Wiltfang, Director of Emergency Operations for Winnebago County.

It's all thanks to live shots streaming from new cameras attached to tornado sirens. Right now there are 10 cameras up and running, but four more are on the way, and Wiltfang says more eyes can only be a help during severe situations.

"It's just one more tool for us to have to alert the public sooner," said Wiltfang.

A tornado siren isn't the only way to stay alert during severe weather, now your phone can warn you too.

"Tornado warning is in this area until 12:15 pm, take shelter now," read Honchar.

That's the text message Honchar received from the National Weather Service. It was his first time ever being alerted over his phone. It's called the Wireless Emergency Alert System.

"These alerts are going to be triggered on phones that are within a warned area, or a tower within a warned area," said Edward Fenelon, National Weather Service. "If you are in or close to the warning, you're going to receive one of these alerts on your phone."

And you don't need to download anything. It's just one more way to keep residents alert of the dangers that could lie ahead.

The cell phone alert will sound anytime there's a tornado warning or a flash flood warning in your area. It will also go off if there's an Amber alert.
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