April certainly lived up to its expectations of being the peak of our severe storm season. The Wednesday before Easter, I was in Severe Weather Center 2 and my colleague, meteorologist Brad Nitz and I (Brad is working from home) had the same reaction when we saw the afternoon model run data for the upcoming Easter weekend. We both texted each other about the same time, with the same reaction. OMG!
The severe storm parameters were off the chart. The wind shear being predicted was in the ridiculous mode. It looked like what we saw back in 2011, maybe even a little worse. We alerted the news department that we would need all hands on deck, as this would likely be the “big one” of the season. Friday before Easter nothing had changed with the models. It was going to be an epic severe storm outbreak from Texas to North Carolina. We had been alerting our viewers since Wednesday and they were craving new information. Is my county included? How bad would it be? Where would tornadoes be more likely? All great questions we would not know the final answer to until Easter morning. The one thing we knew for sure was the timing.
On Holy Saturday, all the models were in agreement. The storm system with all its fury would be coming in Easter night and continuing overnight into Monday morning. This is a worst-case scenario. The storms are violent and scary. It’s in the middle of the night. Moms and dads would be huddled in basements or hallways and bathrooms. The darkness and hour adding to the horror and confusion of horrific wind and rain. And then the storms began.
The first tornado warning came around 8 p.m. Easter night. It was for Chatooga County in northwest Georgia. These were going to be long-track tornadoes. We began tracking it on radar, warning people in the path as it moved around 50 mph to the northeast, toward Murray and Whitfield counties. It was a bad one.
As it turned out, the EF 2 carved out a path of destruction from Chatooga to Murray counties and five people lost their lives. Another man in Barrow County would lose his life when a tree fell on his house and crushed him. By the time it was all said the done, we had 22 tornadoes in Georgia.
The strongest was the EF 3 with winds estimated at 165 mph. We were looking at the wind velocities on radar as we were tracking it. We could not believe it’s size. This tornado tracked through Upson County for about 40 miles and it was a half-mile wide!
By 4 a.m. we finally saw the end of it. We had been on the air for hours. We just would not know the full extent of the damage until the next morning. When I got up and turned on the news, there was a reporter standing in front of a house that was in the middle of the street. He was in Upson County. That tornado had ripped the house from its foundation, hurled it into the air, and laid it down in the road, mostly intact! I’ve never seen anything like it. It then had to be torn down. There was no one in the house at the time and I could not believe there was not a single person hurt from that tornado!
In case you are wondering, the most tornadoes in a single day was 42. The year was 2018. We are now breaking out of tornado season and entering one of the prettiest months of the year in north Georgia. Hope you can get out, social distancing of course, and enjoy some of the best weather of the year.