By RICK HAYES
A little over a week ago Jefferson County was under a tornado warning due to intense storms passing through the area. Although no injuries were reported, some local residents remain confused about the warning signals issued by the City of Mt. Vernon.
“First, we always test the sirens at 10 a.m. on the first Tuesday of the month. We test all the features of the sirens, and residents will hear three different and distinct sounds during the test,” explained Assisistant Fire Chief Kevin Sargent.
“The first thing you will hear is a high, low tone sound. The other one is a constant wail. When it starts up, it doesn’t fluctate in tone like the first warning. The third feature is we can do a voice active message where we can open up and speak during a disaster or time of need,” Sargent continued.
“If we have a severe thunderstorm warning given by the National Weather Service that is immiment for the Mt. Vernon area, we will give the fluctating tone that will last for 5 minutes. That’s to alert our residents that there is dangerous weather in the area,” he said.
“If during that severe thunderstorm warning Doppler radar indicates there is a tornado or a weather spotter has actually spotted a tornado, we’ll turn on the constant siren. That will last for the duration of the tornado warning. Typically, those last 20 to 30 minutes. If a tornado is indicated by the National Weather Service, we will keep it on until the warning has expired,” Sargent said.
The assistant fire chief also explained that the the sirens spin, and as they spin away from you, the tone will sound like it’s getting lighter.
“It may sound like it’s fluctuating, but the siren is actually spinning around so that we can get a 360-degree notification out to our citizens,” Sargent said, noting the key to the siren notification system is that a severe thunderstorm warning is 5 minutes in duration while the tornado warning sound will continue for the duration of the warning.
“Our citizens need to realize when the National Weather Service issues any type of warning it is in their best interest to heed those warnings. If you are outside, seek shelter indoors by moving to the interior of the building. If you have a basement, go there and wait for the storm to pass,” Sargent said. “The storm season is just around the corner. We’ll probably peak at the end of March, early April. so let’s hope we have a good year,” he added.
Sargent noted the anniversary of the Leap Day 2012 tornado in Harrisburg that resulted in several fatalities and injuries is coming up.
“That happened early in the morning. We don’t want that to happen to our citizens in Mt. Vernon. We don’t want fatalities or injuries because people don’t heed our siren warnings,” Sargent concluded.
Sirens in Mt. Vernon are located at city hall, Veterans Memorial Park, Times Square Mall, and Summersville Grade School. Sargent said he and Mayor Mary Jane Chesley are in preliminary discussions about future plans to cover areas in the city where future development may occur.