Severe Weather & Tornado Warnings

Severe weather situations can be intimidating. Here we try to provide you with essential information to prepare you for such situations. For more information on severe weather and other emergency procedures, head over to Emergency Planning and Preparedness website.

Severe Weather FAQ

Q. What is the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning?
A. Tornado Watch means that conditions are favorable for tornadoes to form. Be alert to weather conditions and announcements. Tornado Warning means a tornado has been sighted or radar indicates rotation in the clouds. Lancaster County Emergency Management and the University will sound tornado sirens when a tornado has been spotted on the ground.
Q. Who issues a tornado watch?
A. The National Weather Service will issue a tornado watch. Watch announcements will be broadcasted through the television and radio announcements. When a watch has been issued, pay close attention to these broadcast signals and anticipate the possibility of severe weather.
Q. Who issues a tornado warning?
A. The National Weather Service will issue a tornado warning when conditions or radar indicate the possibility of a tornado. Lancaster County Emergency Management will sound tornado sirens and the University will activate internal notification systems on confirmation of a tornado.
Q.Why is it possible that the National Weather Service may issue a tornado warning for the area but Lancaster County Emergency Management does not sound its civil defense sirens?
A. Lancaster County Emergency Management relies on trained spotters and their procedures call for activation of the civil defense sirens only when a tornado has been spotted on the ground. This criterion is intended to limit “false” alarms and provide residents at least 5 minutes to seek shelter. So when the sirens are sounded in the city and on the University campuses, the warning should be taken seriously.
Q. How will I know when a tornado warning is over and we can leave the shelter area?
A. A warning is issued for a specific time frame. Local radio and television stations typically announce that the warning has expired or been extended.
Q. When is the statewide test of the tornado alarm systems?
A. The state of Nebraska tests the tornado alarm systems at a specific designated time each year in early spring.
Q. Are we to seek shelter during the test of the tornado warning systems?
A. Yes, all faculty, staff and students are asked to participate in the annual statewide test to familiarize themselves with the locations of their designated shelters and the procedures to follow if UNL is struck by a tornado.
Q. I hear a siren every month on and around campus. What is that and should I be seeking shelter during that time?
A. Lincoln/Lancaster County Emergency Management will test all tornado-warning systems on the first Wednesday of each month at approximately 10:15 a.m. The test will end within 5 minutes. You do not need to seek shelter during these outdoor siren tests. Tests will not be conducted when there is a threat of severe weather or temperatures are below freezing.
Q. Is that an actual person giving the voice message in my building or a recording?
A. Some buildings will hear a recorded voice message. Other buildings will hear the voice of a UNL operator.

Safety Procedures


  1. Move quickly to the tornado shelters in University buildings listed on posters near elevators and entrances.
  2. Do not use elevators.
  3. Stay away from windows
  4. If a tornado strikes, help avoid telephone overloads. Do not use telephones (including cell phones) except for emergency.


  1. Seek indoor shelter if possible.
  2. Parked motor vehicles are unsafe. Seek indoor shelter.
  3. If an indoor shelter is not available and there is not time for escape, lie flat in a ditch or low spot.
  4. If you are on flat ground and are caught in the path of a tornado, always move at right angles to its path.