Sirens not sounded during last week’s storm

Published 3:14 pm Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Last week’s storm did not include activation of the emergency sirens located at several schools due to a number of factors.

Picayune Fire Chief Keith Brown said he’s received a few emails and phone calls from concerned citizens asking why the sirens were not activated.

Pearl River County Emergency Management Director Danny Manley said in order for the county to activate the sirens, a storm has to reach sustained wind speeds of 58 miles per hour or more, contain hail that is larger than 3/4 of an inch and or contain an imminent threat of a tornado.

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Tornado warnings were issued by the National Weather Service in Slidell, La., but were not pertinent until 2:27 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., Manley said. That five hour window combined with the decision of whether to let county residents sleep, or wake them up with the sirens, were factors taken into consideration when deciding to activate the sirens or not, Manley said.

The National Weather Service Forecast Office issued a release stating that Wednesday’s storm did contain an EF-1 tornado that passed through Picayune. The release states the tornado started at 5:25 a.m. and ended at 5:30 a.m., contained an estimated maximum wind speed of 90 mph, a maximum width of 100 yards and a path of three miles.

That path began five miles southwest of Picayune on Jackson Landing Road and had an intermittent three mile path northeastward across South Beech and Goodyear Boulevard. Tornado damage in the form of a tree on a home was observed by Forecast Office investigators on Sixth Street and Forest. The release states the tornado dissipated about a mile northeast of Picayune near Adcox Road and Mississippi Highway 43.

Manley said the main objective of the severe weather sirens is to keep school children safe, due to the nature of the grant used to purchase them. They can be activated when the advantages of activating them outweigh the risks.

Considering the storm hit during the early morning hours when people were safe in their homes Manley said activating the sirens at that time would only wake people near the sites of the sirens and possibly prompt them to go outside to investigate, putting them in harm’s way.

Manley said the sirens are most effective when they alert people who are outside that severe weather is approaching, hopefully telling them to seek shelter in a home or building, not under a tree or dugout.

“Basically, that’s just a judgment call,” Manley said. “We are careful not to cry wolf. I want people to realize when those sirens go off, they need to get to a safe place.”