East Tennessee tornadoes: Outdoor sirens used in some towns, not all

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PLEASANT HILL, Tenn. (WATE) — The Cumberland County community had very little, and in one case no time, to run for cover before an EF-0 tornado touched down.

According to the National Weather Service in Nashville, an EF-0 tornado came through Pleasant Hill around 3:15 p.m. CDT.

However, Pleasant Hill Mayor Lisa Patrick said they received no tornado warning ahead of the storm.

If they had, she said they would’ve used their outdoor sirens, and any other alarms in place, to warn the residents.

“We’ve all got our phones set to the National (Weather) Service. So, as soon as we get any kind of a warning that comes through our phones from that National (Weather) Service, we set the alarm off. But, unfortunately, yesterday that didn’t happen,” Patrick said.

Three towns in Cumberland County have outdoor sirens, according to the county EMA director: Pleasant Hill is one of them; Fairfield Glade and Lake Tansi are the other two.

One community, a little more than 15 miles east of Pleasant Hill, did sound their alarm.

Fairfield Glade Police Lieutenant Kate Self they did it after they heard about the tornado touching down in Pleasant Hill, and could see the funnel cloud with their own eyes.

“At that time, our officers, you know, we kind of went outside to see if we had a visual. And actually members of our department were able to visually see the funnel and the weather movement,” Self said.

After seeing it for themselves, and hearing from county emergency management officials about what had happened, they initiated the outdoor sirens.

Self also said before the tornado touched down, they didn’t hear of any kind of warning.

“There was no alert for anybody in the county. It was just very unexpected for everybody,” Self said.

Self said they have five sirens placed around the community, and they’ve been there for decades.

When the department receives alerts for severe weather, the supervisor on shift makes a decision whether to use the outdoor sirens.

With the flip of a switch in the police department, it goes off.

She said the sirens are tested monthly, and are very important for their community, which has many outdoor activities.

“Golf courses, lakes, racket sports, hiking trails. And to us it’s very important that we have those sirens, cause the main function of those sirens are to alert people outside to seek shelter,” Self said.

Self said although the outdoor sirens are important to help notify the community, she said residents and visitors shouldn’t rely on those, because they are only for those currently outside when severe weather blows through.

“We encourage people to invest in weather radios, and make sure that their alerts are set on their phone, so they can receive emergency alerts on their phone as well,” Self said.

In her five and a half years working in the Fairfield Glade Police Department, she can count on one hand how many times they’ve used the outdoor sirens for severe weather.

She said the need to use them seems to have grown in the past two years though. But how it all unfolded on Tuesday, was something she’s never seen before.

“Yesterday, although we didn’t have a warning, there was evidence of an emergency of that unexpected tornado touching down, so that’s why we initiated it,” Self said.

WATE 6 On Your Side News reached out to the NWS in Nashville to find out why a warning wasn’t issued before the tornado touched down in Pleasant Hill. We are waiting for a response.

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