Nine digital billboards in Champaign to display tornado warnings

 

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CHAMPAIGN — When you're driving with your windows closed, air conditioning cranked and music blasting, you may not always hear the screech of tornado sirens.

But if you're on certain main roads in Champaign, you'll now be able to see a tornado warning in bright red on a digital billboard.

Adams Outdoor Advertising has teamed up with the National Weather Service to equip all nine of its digital billboards in Champaign to alert drivers to any tornado warning in effect within 20 miles of each billboard.

Those billboards are on South Neil Street, North Mattis Avenue, Prospect Avenue, East University Avenue, Marketview Drive and Meijer Drive, the company said. The one on Meijer Drive is digital on both sides, so drivers passing that billboard will see a tornado warning from either direction.

Adams won't be able to provide the digital-billboard tornado warnings in Urbana. Digital billboards remain illegal there, according to Lorrie Pearson, the city's planning manager and zoning administrator.

Adams Outdoor Advertising already donates billboard space to the FBI for Amber Alert warnings and said it's providing the tornado warnings as a donation to the community in the interest of public safety.

"If we can save one life, it's worth it," said Reid Reker, general manager for the Adams Outdoor offices in Champaign and Peoria.

Each time the alert is activated, each of the digital billboards in Champaign will show only the tornado warning until it has been lifted, Reker said.

For its Champaign digital billboards, Adams has provided access to its network to the National Weather Service, which will be posting the notices, Adams art director Dan Wild said.

The digital billboard notices will go into effect only for tornado warnings, as opposed to tornado watches, he said.

A tornado watch means conditions are favorable for a tornado to occur, and a warning means a tornado has actually been spotted.

Drivers seeing the warnings on billboards are advised to seek shelter immediately, Wild said.

The technology is already in place for the next time a tornado warning is issued, he and Reker said.

John Dwyer, coordinator of the Champaign County Emergency Management Agency, said he thinks this is a great idea.

"Anything to alert the public," he said.

But Dwyer also cautioned that people still need to have weather radios and phone apps to stay alert to the kind of weather that can rapidly develop into tornadoes even before tornado warnings are issued.

Adams Outdoor Advertising operates in eight states. The company is also adding digital billboard tornado warnings in Peoria.

Reporter

Debra Pressey is a reporter covering health care at The News-Gazette. Her email is dpressey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@DLPressey).