NWS: Calhoun County tornado track was longer than we knew

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Tim Lockette, The Anniston Star, Ala.
·3 min read
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Apr. 7—The National Weather Service has revised its view of the March 25 tornado that struck Calhoun County, after local reports of damage convinced meteorologists to come back for another look.

In an announcement released Wednesday morning, forecasters now say the EF-3 tornado that ravaged Ohatchee and Wellington on March 25 didn't end in the Pleasant Valley area as originally thought, but instead crossed all the way into Cherokee County — connecting to another storm track that forecasters had believed was a separate tornado.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense, but the storm hit the county line and then it took a turn," said Chris Darden, chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Calera.

In other words, instead of a 24-mile-long major tornado and a small EF-0 twister, the area saw a single 38-mile-long whirlwind that weakened as it crossed the county. The difference may not matter much — unless you live in the few miles of the storm zone that was missed the first time around.

"We definitely heard it pass by," said Johnny Studdard, who was burning piles of debris in his yard on Sulphur Springs Road Wednesday afternoon. "It sounded like a train."

Darden said forecasters took another look at Sulphur Springs and New Liberty roads after news reports and social media comments pointed out damage in the area around the Learning Tree, a school in Roy Webb.

The area is sparsely populated, but trees don't lie. Darden said forecasters found damage near Forest Ridge Road in Pleasant Valley consistent with an EF-2 tornado, a storm with winds of at least 111 mph that can uproot or snap trees. On Charlie Penny Road, New Liberty Road and Sulphur Springs Road in Roy Webb, there were signs of a lesser EF-1 or EF-0 storm.

Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency acting director Myles Chamblee said the new storm path doesn't change the county's count of at least 325 structures damaged in the storm. Local EMA officials — looking for damaged property, not meteorological clues — had already surveyed damage in the area.

Chamblee said the work of debris removal began this week in much of the storm-affected area. Cleanup crews in trucks will pick up piles of debris pushed to the side of the road, and they'll return later to pick up more debris piles, at the same locations, as cleanup goes on. It could take six or seven weeks for crews to get everything.

Chamblee said people in damaged areas should separate their debris into at least two piles — one for trees and vegetative debris, one for debris from construction and demolition.

"They'll do multiple passes," he said of the debris trucks. "They'll get what they can from the road, and then they'll come back to do it again at some point."

Cleanup efforts have been slowed a little by ongoing forecasts of severe weather. The next three days could see similar weather, with thunderstorms predicted for Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.