3 INVESTIGATES: More severe weather alert options needed for Hamilton County
The Storm Prediction Center classifies severe weather season in the Tennessee Valley from March 23rd to August 10th.
How do you get alerts?
If you live in Hamilton County, it's likely through a weather radio, a weather app, or none at all. Channel 3 finds out if more can be down for those living and working in the county.
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Since 2011, there have been 57 tornado warnings in Hamilton County, and more than 250 severe thunderstorm warnings. Many meteorologists in the area, including Anthony Cavallucci, the Warning Coordinator for the National Weather Service Morristown Office, agrees we need multiple ways to get alerts to the public.
"Why aren't we talking about weather information. Weather safety. Basic things that everybody needs to know?" asks Cavallucci.
In many parts of the country, and even in Tennessee, outdoor sirens are activated to indicate the possibility for life-threatening weather, and that you should go indoors to get more information.
But, not here in Hamilton County. Hundreds of sirens in the Tennessee Valley though are used for the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant, in case of an emergency. TVA Spokesperson, Jim Hopson, tells us they do not activate the sirens. The decision to activate is up Emergency Management.
"We have teams out maintaining individual sirens practically on a daily basis, and we test the entire system functionality once a month," states Hopson.
Thankfully, the sirens have never been used. We wanted to know why those sirens can't be used for severe weather. Hamilton County Emergency Management Spokesperson Amy Maxwell, says if we use those sirens for severe weather too, it would cause confusion for those who are used to hearing it strictly for a nuclear emergency.
"Because they're not going to know if it's a Sequoyah incident or a severe weather incident. But we have checked into the possibilities of doing something like that, but we're talking significant funding," adds Maxwell.
Other counties in the Tennessee Valley have taken extra steps to send weather alerts. Dade County, which has fewer severe weather warnings than Hamilton, implemented an outdoor siren in Trenton in 2016.
In 2017, Hamilton County rolled out I-PAWS (Integrated Public Alert Warning System), as a way to get information to the public as quickly as possible. Much like an amber alert, it pops up on your phone.
Maxwell tells us it's only to be used for a potentially significant event. It has not been used for anything weather-related since it was implemented two years ago.
"We just don't want to abuse it, because of the fact that we don't want people to deter from using it," states Maxwell.
As more an more people move to Hamilton County, and Chattanooga specifically, Maxwell agrees that there needs to be more ways of alerting the public during dangerous weather situations.
"Yes, we are seeing an increase of population, significantly. I agree, I think the more tools we have to provide and notify the general public, you can't go wrong with it," says Maxwell.
The National Weather Service Morristown office hosts an Integrated Warning Team, which involves a planning committee. Channel 3 will be part of that team, working to find more ways and resources to get severe weather alerts out to the public.
Have a weather-related story idea? Feel free to email Meteorologist Brittany Beggs.