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Storm alerts go into overdrive / July 10, 2017

Midsummer storms caused light damage in recent days in Halifax County and left hundreds without power for a brief period Saturday night, mostly in the Virgilina area.

High winds and heavy rainfall swept over the county late in the day Thursday and Saturday, knocking down trees and pulling down power lines. The Saturday thunderstorm knocked out electricity to about 500 customers of Dominion Virginia Power and Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative.

Most of the affected homes were clustered in the Virgilina area, according to Emergency Services Coordinator Chad Loftis.

Loftis said the Saturday storm also caused two fires in the Alton area and also felled six trees there. Halifax and Liberty were also hit late in the day by high winds, rain and lightning, bringing down a small number of trees.

With the weather staying hot and muggy throughout the week, a storm front also developed Thursday afternoon in South Boston and outlying county areas, striking around 6 p.m. Loftis said a few roads were blocked off by trees that fell across the pavement, but those were quickly cleared by local crews. Otherwise, damage was minimal.

While the county encountered few real troubles due to the weather, Halifax County officials were left with a more immediate concern — what some see as excessive warnings emanating from the county’s Emergency Notification System.

“We had one storm that came into our area last night, however we were notified of this storm at least eight times,” said Loftis of Thursday’s weather. While the storm was fairly minor, subscribers to the Emergency Notification System received a constant stream of text messages, robocalls and emails that contained warnings to seek cover and retreat to the safest part of the home.

Loftis expressed concern the warnings amounted to overkill — and may create a false sense of complacency in the event a more serious storm comes through the area.

“What I am afraid of is citizens getting tired of the system and removing their number,” stated Loftis, “and when we really need it citizens may not be signed up. It’s a classic case of the boy who cried wolf ….”

For an individual who is signed up to receive the emergency notifications, “this could mean eight emails, eight phone calls, and eight texts. So some people were notified 24 times of the same storm,” he said.

Loftis expressed concern that excessive warnings may lead some people to unsubscribe to the emergency notifications, “then it changes to a tornado but it is ignored. This is something we can’t have in Halifax County.”

County officials are working with the provider of the emergency notification system to address the problem, but the company is in the midst of a corporate merger and Loftis indicated that he is unsure how quickly action may be taken.

“If I see progress for our citizens we will continue with what we have, if not we will have to look at other providers,” he said. “I just hope the citizens will understand we are working on the problem but it may take a while.”

The weather may offer a respite for the next few days, with mostly sunny weather in the forecast. Summer thunderstorms could return by the weekend, according to Sunday’s forecast.

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