Why did warning sirens fail to sound before deadly Alabama tornado?

Published 2:02 pm Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Warning sirens failed to sound before a tornado struck a north Alabama community last week, killing two people, but officials said it probably wouldn’t have mattered even if they had.

The area where an EF-2 tornado hit near Town Creek is too far away from warning sirens to have made a difference for the victims even if they went off, said Johnny Cantrell, director of the Lawrence County Emergency Management Agency.

“And if the tornado had been a half-mile north of where it hit, hundreds of people would have been killed,” Cantrell told the Decatur Daily.

The National Weather Service said a tornado touched down Dec. 16 south of Town Creek, went over a mountain and dipped down again before destroying everything in a path that was 370 yards wide at its maximum. A husband and wife died, and their 7-year-old son was among the injured.

Town Creek Mayor Mike Parker said neither of the community’s two storm sirens emitted a warning before the killer tornado.

“I know they didn’t go off,” Parker said. “And if they did it wouldn’t have helped out there.”

Cantrell said the siren system is based on a concept that is decades old, and he favors having a severe weather application for cellphones so residents in a storm’s path can be notified. He said he will continue to look at more modern notification systems and look for money to fund the application.

County commissioner Jesse Byrd, Parker and Cantrell met with the state’s emergency management director, Brian Hastings, on Friday to discuss the problem.

“We’ve agreed we need some software update for the sirens,” Parker said.