Being both aware and prepared for severe weather events is an individual and community responsibility. While working remotely on a project in Georgia yesterday, I was in daily with contact with scientists and engineers conducting field work. I was also in close contact with a number of meteorologists and storm spotters who were actively tracking tornadic storms in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama on January 29th, 2013. What I did not expect was that my engineering work would suddenly cross paths with my study of violent convective weather on the same day.
While coordinating with my associates in Georgia, I happened to have a Doppler radar screen up on my laptop. I saw several strong, potentially tornadic couplets moving quickly through Alabama and heading toward Georgia, so I set markers to track storm motion over a number of scans, and looped storm tracks to keep aware of these potential threats. While it was January, not a month I'd usually consider 'tornado season,' my awareness was however peaked, because I heard a large number of tornado reports from colleagues the previous evening, and it was still morning in Georgia, but I was seeing strong storm relative velocity (SRVs) on Doppler scans, seemingly heading in a general direction toward the very people I was on the phone with at the moment. I got a bit distracted, as I focused my attention to the storms, and realized the in-and-out bound velocities were relatively strong, and increasing. Clearly, I was looking at a tornadic mesocyclone, and somehow moving a bit ahead of a linear squall line that was progressing northeastward at almost 65 miles per hour.
Based on viewing a base reflectivity (br) structure of a flying eagle (often associated with a tornado), and seeing strong velocities, I decided to warn my counter parts in Georgia that I thought they may face a tornado threat, and may wish to turn on a 'weather radio.' Well, they did not have one handy, so I kept my eyes on weather news for them. The next thing I noticed was a tornado watch #19 was issued for these storms in Georgia, and the very counties where my friends were working. The now tornadic couplets were heading northeasterly and intensifying. I asked my associates where they were, and sure enough they were northeast of these couplets by about 35 miles, as the storms headed in a northeasterly direction. I thought, with a forward storm motion of roughly 60 miles an hour they are probably about a half an hour ahead of these, now obvious fairly long track tornadoes. Alarm bells were ringing in my head for my friends, so I suggested they identify where a nearby tornado shelter was located. As luck would have it, their work was in a sheltered area, so I calmed a bit.
At this point I decided to run a Fox News live stream from Atlanta on my laptop, and my jaw dropped. Reports were coming in that Adairsville had been hit hard by a large violent tornado. I checked my twitter feed etc., and started seeing videos posted by people of a large tornado going right through the town. While that was going on, I was still seeing tornadic couplets forming that were heading towards the suburbs of Atlanta. Well, by now all attention was on the storm, so I contacted my friends in Weather Service. They were on top of the situation as it was unfolding and were tracking everything moving with great focus, and were quite aware of the couplets I had seen form in Alabama and move northeastward into Georgia.
Knowing this, I went back to work, while watching the live stream news and updated Doppler loops.
The following day, I was able to obtain pictures of some pretty incredible damage in Adairsville (See attached slideshow). I managed to get in touch with several people who gave some pretty compelling first-and second hand accounts of the tornado, and resulting damage. For example, a Georgia Power and Light worker informed me that a bank employee informed him that a car was launched from one side of the bank parking lot clear over the roof, that was also removed by tornadic winds, and that car crashed down on the opposite side of the building in another parking lot (see pictures), next were first hand accounts of numerous demolished cinder block and brick buildings, as well as a manufacturing plant that was mostly destroyed, and included twisting two foot wide steel I beams along with destroyed pre-stressed steel reinforced concrete walls. There were also a number of other vehicles that had been picked up and tossed, end-over-end for more than a thousand feet, and there was strange damage too, such as wood splinters driven into phone poles (see slide show). I found these details fascinating, marveling at the strength of such wind force. It should be interesting to hear from expert tornado damage assessors about the potential EF strength of this large deadly tornado.
Unfortunately, I was also informed that two people lost their lives when the tornado hit, and was saddened to hear of such loss. Watching live-stream accounts of local news, I heard that a number of people interviewed indicated they had not heard sirens, and that got me thinking about how the threat had been warned the day before by Weather Channel and SPC, and wondered if those people had weather radios in their homes or at work? At least to me, it appeared that local weather affiliates had put out the message and warnings, before storms hit the area, but wondered how many might not have access to computers or televisions that early in the day. The next thought that came to mind was my cell phone, and how I had received an emergency alert in Kansas last spring when my GPS position crossed into a severe weather warned area. I think most people these days do have cell phones, and look forward to the day when warnings get automatically sent out to phones when a warning is issued for an area.
Given the pretty amazing level of damage experienced by Adairsville, Georgia, I am glad to know the casualty number is fairly low, as it appeared they were hit pretty hard by that storm. I suspect early notification by weather services must have made some difference in getting some number of people alerted, so they could seek shelter in time. It is also pretty amazing to see the aggressive emergency response on the news, and seeing a large number of utility vehicles responded quickly to return service to the area, and that local churches and community groups had already put-up websites organizing volunteer relief efforts. That seems pretty good to be occurring within one day of such a disaster.
In this new millennium we are all powerfully connected to each other, across our country and the planet. Many people keep in momentary contact, using social media such as Face Book and Twitter, with people around the world. We often see news 'as it happens' on the other side of the planet, or in different states. I am comfortable with the idea that we truly are part of a global community. Along with this exposure comes opportunities to be helpful in ways unimaginable even ten years ago, and I am all too aware of threats we face from technology used for purposes not so noble. I am glad Adairsville, Georgia, has created a Facebook page for voluntary donations and support, along with the official response and relief efforts. I think electronic and social media open communication shows great promise in solving complex problems, such as when communities face natural disasters like this one in Georgia.
If you would like to donate to the Adairsville tornado relief effort you can access information at:
Also, Red Cross has contact points for disaster relief at: