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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Storm sirens can save lives

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Winds howl. The sky darkens. A tornado is near.

Are we in a safe place? Will we even know the twister's coming?

Bedford County's slightly safer than in times past. The storm shelter system now in place may eventually save lives.

But one element is still missing: Storm sirens.

Federal grants are available if city or town councils and the county commission can't find enough money in their budgets.

We've heard the argument that severe weather occurs too rarely for sirens to be of any use. But even one life is worth the cost.

And we DO get severe weather. For example, these close calls:

*The famous April 1974 outbreak when an apparent tornado touched down in Tillett's Trailer Park. It's not listed in the National Weather Service's database as a tornado, but I lived a few blocks away at the time and from what I heard, trust me. It was a twister.

Shortly before it struck I heard a jet -- or what I thought was a jet -- flying at near rooftop level over the house moments after what sounded like a train in the distance. Tornado survivors have described similar sounds.

*An unexpected late summer storm around, I think, 1990 blew debris and folding chairs through the Celebration grounds during a show. Certain types of flying objects can be lethal. The crowd was quickly rounded up under the stands, but I'd hate to think of trying a quick evacuation of that many people.

*Normandy's 1995 tornado. After a second warning was issued I was trying to get back to Shelbyville and winds became very high at the place a driver doesn't need that: atop and coming down the steep Normandy Road hill. I was expecting to get blown down the embankment at any moment.

*The 1997 Wheel tornado, which hit several homes. Sirens probably wouldn't have sounded in that case, because it was one of two instances within a 10-year period when tornadoes struck here without notice. The other was Haley in November 2002, after which Nashville's National Weather Service office was censured by federal officials for missing that specific twister.

Bedford County's last tornado death occurred in 2000 -- a young man caught outside while running on Horse Mountain Road, apparently unaware a storm was coming. A siren in Wartrace could have been heard at his location.

Churches are now being used as storm shelters -- IF there's enough advance warning for emergency personnel to open them and people to beat incoming weather.

A tornado warning was issued May 4 for an unanticipated storm which blew up just west of Shelbyville. No severe weather had been expected. We weren't even in any type of severe watch area.

That's where warning sirens could have come in handy for those not near a TV or radio. Those with a radio but no TV nearby won't hear warnings if they, like many, aren't listening to a local AM station. And good luck if you try to hear those AM stations outside the city limits at night.

Scott Johnson of Bedford County Emergency Management Agency said the shelters weren't opened because there was no time for people to reach them safely. He emphasized the dangers of driving through a storm to find shelter.

A good example of advance warning is Greensburg, Kan., where only 10 or so residents out of approximately 1,400 were killed despite the town essentially being leveled. Greensburg had 20 minutes advance warning. I looked up the actual warnings on the Internet and they were some of the most strongly worded I've ever read.

If anyone thinks an F-5 (strongest category) tornado like Greensburg's can't happen in Middle Tennessee, keep in mind one hit Wayne County in 1998.

We need to be prepared. Storm sirens can save lives.

David Melson is a Times-Gazette staff writer. Responses are welcome at dmelson@t-g.com .

David Melson
On the Loose

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