During Sunday’s torrential rainstorm, tornado sirens were not activated, and some local residents have wondered why.
Commissioner Del Shelstad said he received calls from residents after the storm, including one who was in Prime Rib during the storm. She didn’t know there was a storm until she walked outside. She told Shelstad that if she’d received a warning that the storm was coming, she would have gone home to put her animals inside.
“To me, that would be a great time to alert our community that something’s coming,” he said.
Campbell County Emergency Management Coordinator David King told county commissioners Thursday that it never crossed his mind to set the sirens off for Sunday’s storm.
He sets off the tornado sirens when a tornado has been sighted or when the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning. There was no tornado in Sunday’s storm.
Some of the commissioners want to give King some discretion, however. Shelstad wondered if the county could change its policy so when a bad storm is coming, “we have a directive that says we need to alert the community.”
“If we have a storm three days from now, we should give him the latitude to say, if I think that’s going to impact our community I should set it off,” said Commissioner D.G. Reardon.
King said he is hesitant to set the sirens off for severe thunderstorms, because “all of a sudden we’re making a sliding scale that I have to make a judgment call on.” He doesn’t want to get into a “cry wolf situation.”
He doesn’t have the technology to definitively say one thunderstorm is more severe than the last one.
“If there’s an obvious storm that has baseball-sized hail, you know it’s coming, I think you can make an exception,” Reardon said.
King said there have been 88 severe thunderstorm warnings in Campbell County this year, and 11 of them affected Gillette.
King said for a thunderstorm to be labeled as severe by the National Weather Service, it has to have at least one of these three things: winds of 58 mph or more, hail that is 1 inch or larger, or a tornado.
“Severe thunderstorms can convert to a tornado quite quickly,” he said. “All of a sudden they go from being a routine severe thunderstorm to an ‘Oh my God’ thunderstorm.”
He watches all the storms closely, tracking their projected path to see if they’ll hit Gillette.
“We’re watching it like it’s the last fried chicken leg in the basket and we’re hungry,” he said.
Just because a tornado has been spotted in Campbell County doesn’t mean King is setting off the sirens. If there is one near Recluse, he’s not going to set the sirens off because it’s not affecting the area served by the sirens.
Commissioner Mark Christensen said the sirens were set off for every severe thunderstorm, eventually he wouldn’t take it seriously.
“By the eleventh time, I’d be like, ‘David’s setting it off again,’” he said.