Four funnel clouds threaten Surry

By Tom Joyce -

This area didn’t exactly dodge a bullet, but it did dodge some funnel clouds — four to be exact, as severe weather systems passed through.

“That’s the first time we’ve ever had four tornado warnings,” Surry County Emergency Services Director John Shelton said of weather activity passing through Sunday and early Monday, “which is the most I can ever remember in one storm.”

Shelton said the issuing of multiple warnings indicated that the area was threatened by four different funnel clouds — rotating clouds which are wide at the top and narrow at the bottom to form the core of a tornado.

“We are very lucky that the funnel clouds did not reach the ground.”

Two were noted at the southeastern end of the county, passing through such communities as Shoals, Ararat and Pilot Mountain, and two others toward the central and northern portions of Surry. In the past, tornadoes have struck both the Ararat-Longhill and Lowgap sections.

While the area was spared the destruction of tornadoes touching down, high wind made its mark.

“Most of what we dealt with was, of course, trees downed,” Shelton said of a common result of that scenario facing public safety personnel.

The cases of this were not huge in number, although the emergency services director believes some occurred on private property and therefore were not reported.

One notable incident involved a tree falling on a vehicle on North Street in Mount Airy.

Winds were clocked at 104 mph in Wilkes County, according to Shelton.

“We had right much flooding throughout the county,” he added of a heavy precipitation result.

The rainfall output totaled 2.03 inches from 7 a.m. Sunday to 7 a.m. Monday at F.G. Doggett Water Plant, the city’s official weather-monitoring station.

New alert system praised

The weather threat did provide the county with an opportunity to test a new system implemented in recent weeks, known as Hyper-Reach.

It is an emergency telephone system designed to act as a mass notification tool for issuing emergency alerts to the public for tornado warnings, flash floods or severe winter storms.

Surry County made a switch to Hyper-Reach in late March from a previous system, CodeRED, in order to have broader services at lesser cost. Through it, warnings are issued via both home and cell phones.

“Yesterday was a good day to see how it worked and it worked very well,” Shelton said Monday of Hyper-Reach and how those linked to the system were able to take precautions as a result.

He said one troubling aspect of the storm involves possibly creating a “boy-cried-wolf” mindset with the public, with a predicted disaster not occurring and promoting complacency.

“When you send out warnings and nothing happens, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re out of the woods,” Shelton said regarding tornadoes in particular.

“It’s just whether or not the funnel cloud will come to the ground.” This provides a lesson for the future about heeding such warnings, because one never knows when the worst can happen, Shelton advised.

“You really need to take it serious — bottom line.”

By Tom Joyce

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.