By Alton Mitchell
The spring like temperatures that have been present around LaFayette and Chambers County over the past week gave fuel to a massive fire in a storm system that left more than a dozen dead across the southest, spawned numerous tornados, and caused wind damage across the region.
In Chambers County damage was confined to some downed trees and flooding. As of Monday no tornado touchdowns have been confirmed in the County. In other areas of Alabama touchdowns were confirmed.
On Saturday morning a storm pushing eastward from Macon County spawned a tornado warning for Lee County and Chambers County. That storm entered the area under severe status and caused severe damage in the Smiths Station area in southern Lee County. Severe damage was reported to Smith Stations High Schools baseball field that included structural damage. The wind damage related to that was confirmed to have been a brief tornado touchdown. NWS surveyors estimate the storm was an EF-2.
That same storm system crossed the Chattahoochee River and entered southern Harris County, Georgia striking the town of Cataula, Ga. Severe damage including downed trees and power lines were reported in the Bon Acre Road of Cataula.
On Sunday a second storm system made its way into the area again spawning tornado warnings. Lee County went under a warning again. On Monday the National Weather Service confirmed that the city of Opelika was hit by tornado in the U.S. 280, Pepperell Parkway area of the city. That is estimated to be an EF-1 tornado. That tornado is estimated to have had winds between 90-95 miles per hour.
In Alabama several other tornados were reported to have touched down. Survey crews are making their way across the state to survey storm damage. Those crews will see if it was the result of a tornado touchdown or just straight line wind damage associated with severe thunderstorms. Tornados are suspected to have touched down over the weekend in Lee, Lowndes, Barbour, Marengo, and Pike County’s across the state. No deaths were reported in Alabama due to possible tornados over the weekend.
Neighboring states did report deaths in relationship to the severe weather over the weekend. The reports began around 4:00 a.m. local time on Saturday morning when a storm passed through Hattiesburg, Mississippi. What is believed to have been an EF-3 tornado touched down in the city. The storm hid in the cover of darkness is estimated to have winds of 111 to 135 mph as it struck the city of Hattiesburg. That tornado left four people dead.
On Saturday the storm system hit southern Georgia bringing a tornado outbreak with it. That storm left 11 people dead in the Peach State. Deaths were reported in Brooks and Berrien Counties in southwest Georgia. Two residents were killed in each of those counties. Seven people died in nearby Cook County near the city of Adel that same day. At least 23 people were injured and taken to the hospital due to storm related events on Saturday in south Georgia.
On Sunday a third storm system formed and hit South Georgia again. That storm killed four people in the Dougherty County near the city of Albany. NWS surveyors have not yet confirmed the strength of the Albany tornado on Sunday. Alexandra Jackson an Atlanta area nurse who is a native of Albany stated, “ I was in total shock. I was watching the Falcons game when I got a call saying your mother and grandmother are pinned under their home in Albany from a tornado.” Jackson began to make the nearly three hour drive from Atlanta to Albany to check on her family. She confirmed shortly after beginning the road trip she received a call stating that her family members were safe, but their home was a complete loss.
The city of Albany was struck by a massive tornado on January 6th in another strong storm system. No fatalities were reported in the city from that storm. Early reports indicate that the three storm systems that passed over the southeast over the weekend left at least 20 people dead and produced at least 28 confirmed tornadoes as of Monday. That number is expected to rise as survey crews continue to inspect storm ravaged areas stretching from Louisiana to South Carolina.