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Rogersville tornado warning went unrecognized

Jeff Bobo • May 11, 2009 at 12:00 AM

CLICK HERE for video of tornado in Rogersville.


ROGERSVILLE — When funnel clouds were sighted in and around Rogersville Friday evening, the fire department activated the warning signal, a continuous three-minute blast from the fire whistle.

Rogersville Fire Department Assistant Chief David Jackson said Monday that it had been such a long time since the tornado warning had been signaled that many people didn’t know what it meant.

Jackson said two funnel clouds were sighted in and around Rogersville during Friday evening’s storm, but as of yet it doesn’t appear that they touched down.

One followed High Knob along the northern edge of the city and then turned south toward Burem Road. The other was spotted on the west end of the city near the TRW plant and moved south toward the John Sevier Steam Plant.

There’d been no tornado damage reported as of Monday evening, Jackson noted.

But Jackson said Monday he wants to make sure that everyone knows the tornado signal and what it means.

He said Friday’s storm was a wake-up call. Just because a tornado hasn’t hit the area in a long time doesn’t mean it can’t happen, and neither local residents nor safety personnel should forget that, Jackson said.

“Of the two (funnel clouds) that we know of, we did not have a touchdown. But we activated our whistles, and a lot of people didn’t know what that meant,” Jackson said. “That signal has not been sounded for a lot of years, and people who have lived here forever knew what it was. People who just moved here recently did not.”

Jackson added, “What I’m doing now is trying to make sure everybody knows what the three-minute continuous signal means — that a funnel cloud has been sighted and you need to seek shelter immediately. That doesn’t mean get in your car and go look for shelter. It means take the nearest form of shelter right now whether it be a storm shelter, your basement, or a ditch along the roadway.”

Jackson issued a public safety announcement Monday stating that the Rogersville Fire Department and neighboring fire departments will activate their fire whistles for three minutes continuously in the event of a tornado warning or confirmed sighting.

The announcement further states:

•When this alarm is sounded, take immediate cover in the lowest part of your house, in a hallway or a small room. Do not go to the window to see if you can see anything.

•Remember the imminent danger of tornado touchdown has already been confirmed. These violent storms move extremely fast, and you could be overtaken before reaching cover.

•Remember that fire whistles are also blown in the event of a fire and other emergencies, but only for three minutes in case of a tornado. Please tune to your local radio and TV stations in the event of a whistle.

Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency Director Gary Murrell said a countywide alert system is also in the works and was actually in the works prior to Friday’s storms.

Several whistles are being installed countywide to alert residents of impending danger, and Hawkins County Central Dispatch is also installing an emergency texting and cell phone notification program.

Murrell estimated that all of those programs will be up and running within 100 days, and he will be issuing more information about them as that date nears.

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