Tornadoes destroy dozens of homes and create frightening moments in the south
More than two dozen tornadoes landed in much of the southern United States on Wednesday amid a worsening storm. The National Weather Service Severe Prediction Center (SPC) does not quickly issue a high risk weather forecast, the highest level in a five-level warning system, because the forecast is reserved for days when there is a high level of confidence in a dangerous weather setup. Wednesday was the first day the SPC reached the formidable threat level since May 2019. Thanks to the days of preparation and some happy weather conditions that AccuWeather forecasters attribute limiting the intensity and total number of tornadoes, overall injury numbers have been kept to a minimum and deaths have been reported. While millions of Americans grappled with the horror of the day, only two injuries have been reported, both in Clarke County, Alabama. Still, dozens of families will feel the weather in the coming weeks as dozens of homes and buildings have been damaged and destroyed. Most of the destruction focused on Wednesday in Alabama, where 19 of the day’s 27 tornadoes were discovered, according to preliminary reports from the SPC. Three of them were in Clarke County, including the aforementioned tornado that caused two injuries around 4:30 p.m. local time. According to the WPMI, a woman and her toddler were injured when their home was destroyed in a tornado that destroyed three other homes in the northern part of the county. South of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the city of Moundville, Hale County, suffered widespread damage from a tornado that damaged the roof of a number of homes, according to the National Weather Service report. AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell was in Fairview, Alabama Wednesday evening to investigate firsthand damage from tornadoes. John Sharon, Chilton County’s sheriff, told Wadell that everyone was safe and would be held accountable if the tornado struck. “Given the amount of damage you have, I mean houses have been completely destroyed. It’s a wonder everyone is fine here,” Shearon told Wadell. Several community shelters were opened in Tuscaloosa, and University of Alabama students spent hours sheltering on site. Classes were suspended for the day after 11 a.m., and buildings across campus were closed as a large crowd of students was led into seven shelters on campus. The scene in John England until a few minutes ago. Warning until 4:15 am, but people are flooding out. pic.twitter.com/UUtU0XgxTj – keelykbrewer (@keelykbrewer) March 17, 2021 A pair of tornadoes landed in the university town, damaging several houses and spinning past John England Jr. Hall on campus, with overcrowded students watching. Heavy rain and high winds hit the southern states on Wednesday as well, as 85 reports of high wind gusts and 43 cases of hail were reported. Most of the wind events came from Texas and Mississippi, where a host of decrepit branches fell on power lines, leaving many thousands of residents in the dark. While southern Alabama was dealing with most of the tornado worries, it was the northern part of the state that had to contend with widespread flooding. In Colbert County, evacuations required first responders to use boats to get to homes as the Colbert County Emergency Management Agency said the flood was about 5 feet deep. A big reason the total number of injuries was not higher and there were no deaths was because of favorable cool conditions that reduced the number and severity of the twisters. “It all has to do with the daytime heating limitation,” said AccuWeather’s chief meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. “When you have a cloud cover, the sun can’t get through as much and warm the soil quickly. When the soil is wet, more solar energy goes into evaporating moisture from the soil rather than warming the soil.” To thrive and to grow, heavier thunderstorms usually need warm air from a heated floor, Sosnowski continues. These warm air updrafts help thunderstorms form and become stronger. Take the heating off, as in most cases during the night hours, and storms will lessen in all situations but the most dynamic, he said. Although forecasters acknowledge the weather conditions for reducing the intensity and total number of tornadoes developing, ingredients still came together to form numerous twisters – and reporters and storm chasers were scattered across the area trying to capture the wildness of nature. Near Silas, Alabama, drone footage captured a tornado that triggered multiple flashes of electricity and tore up trees. In the shocking video by Brian Emfinger of Live Storms Media (LSM), light blue flashes of electricity from cracked power lines illuminate the surrounding foliage as intense winds spew debris high into the air. The SPC reported that a tornado in the area damaged four houses and felled many trees around 4 p.m. local time. Equally surprising was a drone video taped in Demopolis, Alabama, showing a massive tornado leaping over the Black Warrior River on Wednesday. The video was shot by Brandon Clement of LSM and also shows the exact moment when the giant twister touches down on the opposite river bank for the second time, making it appear as if the storm is taking a galloping pace. Brandon Clement’s drone footage captures the moment a tornado leaps over the Black Warrior River in Demopolis, Alabama and lands on the opposite bank. (LSM / Brandon Clement) A threatening funnel cloud in Brookhaven, Mississippi, was spotted by Clancie Daley just before 1 p.m. on Wednesday. Daley filmed the cloud looming overhead as lightning flashed around the sky. Officials from the local emergency agency reported a tornado in the area around the same time the suspected twister was damaging trees and demolishing a roof. The tornadoes and high winds cut electricity to more than 25,000 Alabamans at one point Thursday morning and more than 50,000 residents between Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi on Wednesday evening, according to PowerOutage.us. Outside of Alabama, tornadoes were also reported in Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana and Mississippi, cutting trees in Missouri and damaging several buildings in Mississippi. The Mississippi damage happened in Wayne County, where an afternoon twister damaged two homes and destroyed three chicken houses, according to the WLBT. On Twitter, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey thanked the weather forecasters, first responders, and emergency managers for their quick actions and preparations. “After a busy day and night of intense weather, the storm system has finally moved out of AL,” Ivey wrote on Twitter on Thursday morning. She later added, “Overall, we must be very grateful as it could have been much worse. I pray for all of those who have been severely affected and are ready to help with the recovery effort.” As the gravity system moves east toward the east coast, Sosnowski said another set of helpful conditions could help limit the gravity again on Thursday. “A low wedge of cool air may reduce or prevent tornadoes in northeast Georgia, the state of South Carolina, west North Carolina, and west Virginia on Thursday,” he said. “It’s near the Atlantic Ocean and the northeast Gulf coast where cool air is lacking or dissipating during the day, where the risk of tornadoes is greater.” AccuWeather forecasters continue to monitor thunderstorm threat on Thursday as more than 40 million people could be at risk by Thursday evening. Check back often at AccuWeather.com and keep up to date with DirecTV, Frontier, Spectrum, FuboTV, Philo and Verizon Fios on the AccuWeather network.