By Alton Mitchell
The past week has been a rough one weather wise for Chambers County as well as neighboring communities in east Alabama. As several storm systems marched their way across the region last week they left damage across the area and slammed northern Chambers County with its first confirmed tornado touchdown of 2017.
Following severe storms on Monday the threat returned in a greater magnitude on Wednesday. Local officials took no chances as Chambers County Schools closed for the day and residents stayed close to source of information to monitor several storm systems that were scheduled to pass over the area on Wednesday from the early morning hours through the evening hours.
The first storm rolled into the area before daybreak. That system brought heavy rain and some isolated hail to areas around the County. The second storm system passed over during the daytime hours and only spawned some showers and windy conditions over the area. On Wednesday night Chambers County took the brunt of the storm as storms rolled into the area around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday night the National Weather Service in Birmingham placed Chambers County under a tornado warning until 9:00 p.m. CDT. At 8:35 p.m. the weather service noticed a severe thunderstorm located near Trammel Crossroads, about 12 miles northwest of LaFayette moving northeast across the county. The weather service indicated that the storm had a radar indicated tornado with it as well as quarter size hail falling in the storm.
As time rolled on NWS continued to monitor the storm and placed the tornado near Penton as it continued to move northeast across the county. The NWS continued to believe the tornado was on the ground while tracking radar data that showed signs of debris fields on the ground near the path of the storm. The brunt of the storm passed to the north of LaFayette.
As day broke onThursday morning damage was evident in Chambers County. The hardest hit area appeared to be in the Union Hill area of Chambers County. That area is located about 7 miles north of LaFayette.
Crews from the Chambers County Highway Department arrived on the scene of the damage in the early morning hours of Thursday and began to clean up the wide spread damage across the community. Damaged ranged from structural damage to downed trees and limbs across the town.
One of the hardest hit areas in Union Hill was the Union Hill Fire Department. The structure had walls blown out and doors blown open. Insulation from the structure was blown more than 100 feet away in rested in the tops of trees that still stood behind the building. The powerful force of the winds had blown stacks of bricks behind the fire department structure over. Two fire rescue vehicles were still pinned inside the structure.
Across the community dozens of trees were snapped or uprooted from the strong winds that dominated the quiet community. County highway crews used chainsaws and excavators to move the damaged trees from the area and were quick to clear county roads of damaged trees and limbs.
Residents of the community rode around the tiny town getting a first-hand account of the damage that had ripped through their community. Despite the heavy damage across the Union Hill area no injuries were reported in the area. Power was disrupted in the area by the storm.
On Thursday morning a survey team from the National Weather Service arrived in the area to inspect the damage and to determine if the damage was from a tornado or just straight line winds which can create widespread damage in supercell thunderstorms.
Upon their inspection of the damage NWS did confirm the damage in Union Hill was caused by an EF-1 tornado. NWS believes the tornado had winds of about 90 miles per hour as it tore through Union Hill. NWS believes the tornado was about 125 yards wide and traveled about two miles with the initial touchdown being in the area of County Road 116 west of Union Hill. The path of the storm is believed to have carried it to just east of County Road 53 where it lifted back into the clouds as the storm moved east away from the county.
Wednesday’s tornado marks the first confirmed touchdown of a twister in Chambers County in 2017. It serves as a strong reminder to be aware of threats from severe weather as springtime in this region is known to accompany the threat of severe weather outbreaks.