County dodges significant damagePublished 4:52pm Tuesday, April 29, 2014
After several days of forecasts predicting a severe weather outbreak for Northwest Alabama, meteorologists’ predictions came true as storms began to roll through the county Monday.
The first tornado sirens went off about 3:30 p.m. in Russellville, just ahead of a funnel cloud that developed over the north end of the city.
Trees were reported down near the city school campuses and multiple trees, including one that landed on a home, were also reported down in the Hester Heights subdivision north of downtown.
According to Franklin County Emergency Management Agency director Roy Gober, power outages were also reported in portions of Russellville as well as Red Bay and other isolated areas.
“The worst damage the county received was in Russellville near the school and in Hester Heights,” Gober said.
“There were some trees that were reported down in Red Bay and some power outages, and Phil Campbell reported some minor wind damage, but for the most part, Russellville got the brunt of it.”
Gober said the damage was likely caused by a low-end tornado, although it has not been confirmed at this time.
“We have pictures of the funnel cloud and eyewitness reports,” Gober said.
“We have a good idea, based on the damage, where it might have touched down, but well have to get official crews from the National Weather Service to take a look at it before we can make a determination for sure.”
Andy Kula, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Huntsville, said because of the continued threat for severe weather on Tuesday, NWS crews weren’t able to make it to every county with damage.
“We sent out two crews to Lincoln, Tenn., and to Limestone County, which is where we had fatalities,” Kula said.
“Normally we would send crews out to each place with reported damage, but there are so many different places that we couldn’t do that today [Tuesday], especially with more potential for severe weather later this afternoon.”
However, Kula said the NWS also received eyewitness reports of the tornado that formed over Russellville, so it will just be a matter of getting a crew to the city to survey the damage.
“We should be able to get a crew to Franklin County on Wednesday,” he said.
“After we are able to survey the area, we will be better equipped to make a determination as to whether or not the tornado touched down.”
The second round of storms that moved into the area tracked into the southern part of the county near Phil Campbell about 6 p.m.
For those residents who made it through the horrific EF-5 tornado on April 27, 2011, the blaring tornado sirens, black skies, and impending storm were all an unwelcome reminder of what took place almost three years ago to the day.
“We were at the bank three years ago and I never had experienced anything like it before,” Phil Campbell resident Rita Barton said. “We went inside the vault several times and that was the scariest situation I had ever been in.
“Yesterday was nerve wrecking knowing that it could happen all over again like it did three years ago. We closed the bank early and went home or went to our storm shelters or cellars.
“The last storm that came to town was very scary and we all stayed in the storm cellar a pretty good while, but when we finally came out, the sky seemed to have cleared right away.
“I was so relieved that we were all ok. Hearing the storm alarms go off really made everyone nervous, but I prayed that the Lord would take care of all of us and the good Lord was really with us in Phil Campbell.”
After the two major storm systems rolled through the area, parts of the county experienced widespread flash flooding, according to Gober.
In addition to the flash flooding, brief periods of hail, significant lightning and gusty winds were also reported during the afternoon and evening hours before the storms moved out of the area about 8 p.m.
More severe weather was in the forecast for Tuesday, but due to press deadlines, no information was available on this severe weather threat.