When the noise starts, I think an ambulance is screeching by. The low, lonely wail of the siren nudges me in sleep. The repeating fade and surge wakes me fully. The ambulance did not pass by. This is no ambulance. The call is much longer and deeper.
Groggy, I get my phone and look up Louisville sirens. It is just before midnight. The wail undulates outside. Awake now, I appreciate its volume. It is as clear as if someone was standing in the front doorway with an airhorn.
This is the warning system for emergencies, intended to alert people who are outdoors to get inside. The alarms are enabled for tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings. This strategy is effective; the sound is unmistakable.
I look at a map of where sirens are located across the region. The one I am hearing is near a park I drove past earlier in the day. I mistook it for a stadium loudspeaker although in retrospect there was no stadium nearby. The speaker turns on its pole, broadcasting, causing the fade and surge of the sound.
A local meteorologist tweets maps and updates. The storm front is well south of where I am staying.
The front room has the television but also has more windows. I’m cautious. I haven’t heard any wind or rain. Still, curiosity gets me.
I get out of bed, pad down the hallway, and look out the window of the door. A silvery stillness blankets the street. The tree branches in the streetlight wave almost imperceptibly, the wind a soft whisper here. The siren volume rises again as the speaker rotates on its pole in the park. I feel frightened but this also feels eerie: the calm of the night contrasting with the howling alarms.
I don’t dawdle at the window and head back to bed. Inevitably, I think about the Wizard of Oz. I scroll on my phone to distract myself and pass the time.
The alarms continue for about an hour. At 1, I turn off the light, put a pillow over my head, and try to sleep through the noise. The storm front looks like it has moved off. The alarms stop shortly thereafter. Or maybe I fall asleep in spite of them, finally accustomed to the sound, or tired enough to ignore them.
What stays with me is the eerie silver quiet of the street while sirens streamed across the night.