Every Friday at noon, the great civil defense klaxon–an old but still potent Federal Thunderbolt in bright schoolbus yellow–would sound as part of a test. It had done so since the siren was installed in 1955, and the test was punctual enough that old-timers used to joke that you could set your watch to it.

In August of 1989, the siren rang at 11:58–two minutes early. Most people disregarded it, believing their watches or nearby clocks to be faulty. Seven minutes later, an intense thunderstorm swept over the town, almost out of the blue, spawning an F3 tornado that cut a swath through the center of town. 13 people died, 27 were injured, and damage from the twister and hail during the 25-minute storm was estimated in the millions of dollars.

Ever since, people have referred to the “False Alarm Storm” in hushed tones, and the siren has never been rung again.

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