Severe storms, tornadoes hit South, Southeast

Intense thunderstorms, some producing significant tornadoes, raked across the Southeast on Tuesday, producing more than 100 reports of severe weather, including 38 tornadoes from Mississippi to South Carolina.

At least one person died from a tornado that struck Pembroke, Ga., about 30 miles west of Savannah, agreeing to television affiliate WJCL in Savannah. The affiliate also reported three people were injured by a twister in Allendale, Ga.

Storms produced damaging winds and twisters throughout the day as they progressed from west to east. They reached their peak intensity in southern Georgia and South Carolina during the late afternoon and evening, when the Weather Service issued numerous “particularly dangerous situation” warnings for large and destructive tornadoes.

Weather Service damage reports and social media video from the tornado outbreak revealed not only toppled trees and wires scattered throughout the Southeast, but also serious damage to homes and buildings.

More than 25,000 customers were without power in Georgia and South Carolina.

Throughout Tuesday, Weather Service offices in the Southeast issued scores of tornado warnings. The warnings came perilously close and sometimes included major population centers, including Macon, Ga., Savannah, Columbia, SC, and Charleston, but twisters appeared to miss these cities.

Nearby locations were not so fortunate.

About 6 pm, a particularly dangerous situation tornado warning was issued around Ulmer, SC, about 60 miles south of Columbia, and areas to the northeast. Social media showed the large, damaging tornado on the ground just to the northeast.

The damaging and deadly tornado that passed through Pembroke touched down a little after 5 pm A tornado warning was then in effect until 6:15 pm for areas on the north and west side of Savannah for the same twister. Social media videos showed the twister passing through Ellabell, just east of Pembroke. One video showed a large piece of a house sheared off by the tornado and hurled sideways.

Columbia was also under a tornado warning before 6 pm for a confirmed twister but it appeared to dissipate before reaching the city.

A tornado emergency was declared for the area near Allendale and Sycamore, SC, around 4 pm for a confirmed “large and extremely destructive” twister. Radar detected large amounts of debris lofted by the twister about 70 miles south of Columbia. The Weather Service received reports of roofs blown off structures in Allendale. Just two hours later, a new tornado warning was issued for the north side of Allendale, very close to where the first twister struck.

Between 3 and 4 pm Eastern, several tornado warnings were active in central and southern Georgia as well as western South Carolina, including for confirmed twisters to the north and southeast of Macon.

During the morning, some structural damage from tornadoes was reported near Newton, Miss., which is between Jackson and Meridian, and in Coffeeville, Ala., about 75 miles north of Mobile. Warnings for radar-confirmed tornadoes were then issued east of Montgomery, Ala., just before noon Central.

The risk of severe storms will continue in the Southeast on Wednesday, while another round from a second system is possible in the southern and eastern Mid-Atlantic on Thursday.

There already are signs that a robust severe weather event may occur early next week, with the first potentially large-scale classic spring event striking the Plains. Conditions look broadly supportive for tornadoes, and it’s probably just a taste of what’s ahead in the second half of April and much of May as severe weather season enters its prime.

2022 generated most March tornadoes on record in US

The areas most at risk for additional storms on Wednesday and Thursday, as well as early next week, are highlighted below.

  • Areas impacted: A Level 3 enhanced risk is up for northern Alabama, northern Georgia and southeastern Tennessee, including Birmingham, Atlanta and Chattanooga. A more expansive Level 2 slight risk stretches from southern Kentucky through the remainder of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina and dips into the Florida Panhandle.
  • Timing: The specific timing and evolution of storms will hinge on what transpires with Tuesday’s storms and how the atmosphere recovers. That said, thunderstorms are more likely in the afternoon and evening.
  • Hazards: Rotating thunderstorms or supercells aren’t generally expected, but lines or bowing segments capable of producing damaging straight-line winds or an isolated tornado are possible.
  • Areas affected: Thunderstorms on Thursday will probably be confined to extreme eastern parts of North Carolina and perhaps southeastern Virginia. That’s where a Level 2 slight risk has been drawn. Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Wilmington, NC, are affected.
  • Timing: Timing is critical. Morning storms to the north might “work over” the air and sap much of the juice from it, but if the front slows down just a tad or the “warm sector” can become better established, severe-weather chances would climb. Any severe weather should probably hold until 3 pm
  • Hazards: Storms are likely to be structured as a broken line, but a seasonably strong jet stream aloft, with air racing northward at highway speeds barely a mile above the ground, will be present. Any thunderstorm that taps into that momentum aloft will be able to transfer it to the surface in the form of strong to locally damaging wind gusts.

Another round of strong-to-severe thunderstorms will begin Monday. The jury is out on the specifics, but a few ingredients appear to portend storms on the Plains.

A dry line, or the leading edge of arid air from the desert Southwest, will sharpen along the I-35 corridor in south-central Kansas, Oklahoma and northern Texas on Monday. Ahead of it, moisture-rich air from the Gulf of Mexico will be in place. Strong upper-level winds from a dip in the jet stream will accompany an upper-air disturbance, setting the stage for storms.

It remains to be seen whether wind shear, or a change in wind speed or direction with height, is adequate to support tornadoes. Regardless, expect an uptick in severe weather over the Lower 48 toward the start of the next workweek.

Leave a Comment