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TORNADO SIRENS IN CUMBERLAND COUNTY…WHY ONLY THREE AND NOT MORE?

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Story by Scott Humphrey, News Director

After the tornadoes in the early morning hours of March 3, 2020, many residents of Cumberland County asked 105.7 News why there are hardly any tornado sirens in the county.

I looked into this and the problem could be in two parts, cost and distance the sirens can cover.

Let’s look at what the county has and after a history of tornadoes in Cumberland County, the problems with the sirens will be addresses.

The tornado sirens typically range, including installation, from as low as $25,000 to as high as $40,000 each

There are sirens currently in place in Lake Tansi, Pleasant Hill and Fairfield Glade in Cumberland County.

Fairfield Glade’s tornado siren was not operational at the time the tornadic cell came into Cumberland County March 3. It was a mechanical problem which has been corrected now.

The City of Crossville had an active tornado siren years ago. That siren now is not active.

With the Storm Prediction Center saying a second ‘tornado alley” is now present in the southeastern United States, Cumberland County has had its fair share of tornadoes.

HISTORY OF TORNADOES IN CUMBERLAND COUNTY

According to weather officials from 1957 to 2015, 22 tornadoes touched down in Cumberland County resulting in a total of 8 dead and 73 injured. Note the number of 22 does not include the years 2015 to present day nor does it include ones that hit prior to records being kept starting in 1957. So the actual number of tornadoes touched down in the history of Cumberland County is higher than 22.

Here is a look at the most notable tornadoes to hit Cumberland County:

APRIL 15, 1965, 4:13 p.m. – This was the first recorded EF-3 tornado to hit the county. It traveled 6.5 miles on the ground with a width of 200 yards. One person was killed. It touched down in Lake Tansi and headed east, crossed over Highway 127 and lifted off the ground near Russell Ridge Road.

APRIL 24, 1975, 4:30 p.m.  – This EF-2 tornado touched down twice in the Mayland area and was on the ground for only a mile and a half. Three homes were destroyed. Other residences and businesses sustained damage. One person was killed and four were injured.

MAY 18, 1995, 5:21 p.m. – This EF-3 tornado traveled 9 miles in the county. The tornado first touched down in the southwest part of Cumberland County and moved northeast. Two business were destroyed. Eleven homes and 14 mobiles homes were destroyed. Many other homes were damaged. One house had a gas leak in it prompting emergency management officials to evacuate a handful of nearby residents. Other homes had roof damage. Numerous trees and power lines were knocked down. Officials say 20 were injured in this tornado but no fatalities reported.

NOVEMBER 10, 2002, 9:40 p.m. – The most destructive and deadliest tornado to hit Cumberland County started in the Lake Tansi area. The EF-3 traveled 12 miles. Four people were killed and 18 were injured. 33 homes were destroyed and 128 homes were damaged. The heaviest damage was along Lantana Drive, Dunbar Road, and Pigeon Ridge Road. 5 homes were damaged on U.S. Highway 127 and just south of Three Creek Road. One well-built home lost an entire roof and several walls. 50 acres of hardwoods were twisted and tangled. 100-year-old oak trees were snapped like wheat straws. Mobile homes on the Ballyhoo Campground and modular homes in Lake Tansi were destroyed.

FEBRUARY 29, 2012, 4:30 p.m. – This tornado traveled 11 miles in the county. The tornado, with maximum wind speeds around 125 miles per hour, touched down along Castro-Pugh Road just north of Plateau Road in northern Cumberland County. Intermittent damage continued to the east-northeast for approximately 1 mile before the damage became continuous along Clear Creek Road. Hundreds of trees were uprooted and snapped and a home suffered roof damage in this area. The tornado continued east-northeast and reached EF2 intensity in the Rinnie community along Highway 127. A brick home slid off its foundation and was completely destroyed, killing one woman, and another nearby home lost its entire roof. A double wide mobile home along Hollow Road was also completely destroyed, killing another woman, with debris tossed hundreds of yards. At least a thousand trees were uprooted or snapped around this location. Aerial imagery from Google Earth released in Spring 2013 indicated the tornado continued eastward and widened to 1/2 mile, blowing down thousands of more trees as it moved across inaccessible forested areas of northern Cumberland County. Damage was apparent eastward to past Roy Taylor Road. Two people were killed and seven were hurt that day from the tornado.

It is important to note that nearly all of the tornados that hit Cumberland County took place between noon and midnight. Only two on record hit between midnight to noon.

(The map above shows the paths of many of the tornadoes that have hit Cumberland County.)

THE PROBLEM WITH TORNADO SIRENS IN CUMBERLAND COUNTY:

Tornado sirens are not intended, nor designed, to alert people in houses, businesses or vehicles of tornado warnings. Most outdoor warning systems in place in Tennessee today are remnants of the old civil defense siren system.

Given the variety of terrain in Cumberland County, sirens would only have a range of 1 mile at best, mainly in the western and central parts of the county. Many would have a range of less than 1 mile. In eastern Cumberland County, there would need to be numerous sirens because of mountain interference. A projection of the number of sirens to cover Cumberland County to a good extent (far from 100 percent or adequate coverage) would be in the area of 100. At a cost on the high end of $40,000 each, that would run the county $4 million dollars.

105.7 News spoke with Crossville / Cumberland County Emergency Management Director Rick Williams who also projected the number of sirens to cover the county at 100 at best.

“Given the vast terrain of Cumberland County, it would be hard for nearly any siren to achieve any significant distance for sound,” said Williams. “We would need anywhere from 50 to 100 sirens just to be able to cover the majority of the county.”

This would be a tremendous cost to the county should the county government choose to proceed. The land ranging from various levels would make this an extensive project and cost.

FEMA provides three grant programs that offer funding for eligible mitigation planning and projects that reduce disaster losses and protect life and property from future disaster damages: Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, the Flood Mitigation Assistance Program, and the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program.

HOW CAN CITIZENS OF CUMBERLAND COUNTY AND THE SURROUNDING AREA BE BETTER INFORMED IN THE EVENT OF SEVERE WEATHER OR TORNADOES?

The National Weather Service this week recommended that each homeowner and business purchase a NOAA weather radio. A good radio costs $25 and $50 and can be purchased at local stores such as Walmart or Kroger. Some even are portable. These radios will alert you to any severe weather, not just tornadoes.

Weather apps such as Storm Shield are very good when it comes to warnings issues. In the event of the threat of severe weather, be sure to have your media and phone volumes set to maximum in the overnight hours should an alert be sent out. You can also search for “weather alerts” in the app section of your phone and select one that can send alerts and warnings to the county you reside in.

Residents in Cumberland County can click on the following website:

www.Cumberlandtn911.org

That is the website for the Cumberland County 911. If you look at the right of the picture of the 911 building you will see where you can sign up for emergency alerts (HyperReach) in the paragraph in red. Click on the blue sentence at the end of the paragraph to register your phone for emergency alerts. You can sign up for voice alerts, text alerts or both.

Also be sure to listen to 105.7 The Hog. When severe weather takes place, we go live with updates on the air about where the severe weather is, the timing of arrival of the storms in the coverage area and other information that the public needs to know. You can also like 105.7 News on Facebook and go to 1057News.com to get updates when severe weather breaks out in the listening area.

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