Thursday, February 07, 2008

Lawrence and Morgan County, Alabama Tornado

Update: A friend of mine who lives in Tanner in Limestone County said that she and her family have seen debris from the Lawrence County tornado approximately 1-2 miles north of the Tennessee River in Limestone. One of the items she saw was a piece of tin about the size of a door.

I will post many more photos, news items, and video during the next few days.

I will be visiting some friends tomorrow in Lawrence County.


Here are some photos taken by my friend Melia Cole...

Video from ABC 33/40.
Jason Simpson and James Spann provide coverage from ABC 33/40 in Birmingham as the storm that later produced an EF4 tornado in Lawrence County approached from the southwest.



Brian Peters, a long-time meteorologist (now retired and working at ABC 33/40 in Birmingham) with the NWS Birmingham was called in to assist the NWS Huntsville with their storm survey. Initially this tornado was rated an EF3 but he and meteorologist Tim Troutman of the NWS
Huntsville have now rated it an EF4. Brian posted some amazing photographs of damage that played a role in his decision here on

Brian made some remarkable comments when he wrote, "
I continue to see new and startling things in all the destruction. You’d think that with over 40 years in the weather business that there wouldn’t be much new to see - but you would be wrong right along with me....The pictures below all come from Lawrence County and from some of the worst damage areas since tornado rating are based on the highest level of destruction along the tornado path."


I have spoken with another coworker and friend, Melia, who said that an elderly lady from her church died last night. She had been placed on life support. Her son traveled from the upper Midwest. One of the local news channels was reporting her death on their website a short time ago. She was told they found her in a ditch near her home. Melia's husband’s uncle’s home was destroyed. She has a few pictures of damage on her camera which she will be sharing soon that I will post here.

Melia told me some more about the storm. She lives just a little northwest of the northern portion of the tornado’s track. She, her husband, and daughters woke up and decided to drive over to her parents' basement, just down the road. Melia said the lightning was continuous and that there was no wind or rain but that small hail was falling. Her husband said that nothing was going to happen. Apparently they were under the rain free cloud base very close to the tornado.

She has many pictures of large trees uprooted and damage to homes which she will share with me later for to post. She also said that tornado damage extended into Morgan County, stopping about a block shy of the Decatur City limits at the intersection of Thurston Park Road and Modaus Road. This is very significant because the tornado would have traveled into a densely populated portion of SW Decatur. Thanks so much melia for your information!


I have spoken with friends and coworkers Mike and Caroline from Lawrence County. Fortunately they and their families are doing well. Unfortunately there were at least 3 fatalities
and over 20 injuries in Lawrence County. The tornado passed within 1/2 mile of one of my coworkers, a little over a mile from another coworker and it actually crossed over some land owned by my friend Mike. He had recently had some timber cut off that property. He said that if he had not cut it off the property, the tornado would have.

Mike was awakened by his weather radio around 2:30 and started watching television coverage. He said that Huntsville stations WHNT 19 and WAFF 48 provided the best coverage but that WAAY 31 was only giving a crawl on the bottom of the screen. He could not convince his wife to get out of bed and go to the basement at first. He first learned about the damage from his daughters who received text messages from friends who heard about it on the scanner. The image to the left was the Gibson Ridge Radar view of the Columbus Nexrad
reflectivity that I saved at 2:42 a.m.

He and another coworker were describing some terrible things they saw in their communities. There were numerous trees down, numerous homes and trailers damaged and at least one home completely destroyed. The Elam Missionary Baptist Church near County Roads 90 and 91 was damaged near the beginning of the tornado's path.

They said the experience gives them a renewed respect for the weather and that they will always take warnings seriously in the future.

The tornado travelled from the northern edge of the Bankhead
National Forest, which is directly south of Moulton and Wren northeastward to The Elam Missionary Baptist Church, the Pinhook community, the Aldridge Grove community, County Road 183 (where the three fatalities and some of the worst damage occurred), Fairfield, Five Points, Midway, Kitchen's Mill, and Caddo. According to the NWS Huntsville it travelled 18.7 miles and ended near Trinity, close to the Morgan County line. Another co worker lives closer to the end of the path and I will be talking with her soon. The image above was the velocity image coming from the Columbus NEXRAD at 2:42 a.m. as the storm approached Lawrence County.


The NWS Huntsville has released a preliminary survey and posted it online. Their findings included:

Rating: EF4
Peak wind: 170 mph
Path Length: 14 in Lawrence and 2.7 in Morgan

Maximum path width: 1/2 mile


James Spann of ABC 33/40 posted some aerial photos taken by Jimmy Mitchell of the Civil Air Patrol on their weather blog here.

WAFF photo gallery


The National Weather Service Offices in Huntsville and Birmingham handled this storm well. The following are the warnings that were issued on this storm:

Tornado Warning Fayette and Lamar Counties 1:59 a.m.
A funnel cloud was reported on Hwy 278 between Sulligent and Beaverton

Tornado Warning Winston County 2:30 a.m. until 3:15
I heard an unconfirmed report of a barn destroyed near Haleyville

Tornado Warning Lawrence County 2:40 a.m. until 3:40

Doppler indicated a possible tornado near Haleyville
2:58 update from NWS said tornado was indicated 7 miles SW of Wren moving NE at 45


I created the above map based on reports received from friends and coworkers. Click on the map for a more detailed view.


News Articles:

Toll of Deadly Tornadoes - NY Times
“I’ve lived in Champaign, Ill., and in southern Mississippi, and neither place had a decent early warning system like we do here in Moulton,” said Elaina Peyton in Moulton, the county seat of Lawrence County, Ala. “We heard the sirens last night at about 2 a.m., and so our daughter knew to come downstairs and we knew that something was happening. The television went out around 3:30 or so, and we just followed the news on the radio.”

No Sirens to warn affected residents Decatur Daily
"The tornado that touched down in Lawrence County killed a family of three and injured more than 20 others, officials said. The tornado touched down at about 3 a.m. in Pinhook at Lawrence County 183 and Alabama 36 before moving northeast...The storm damaged at least 100 homes and caused 1,940 power outages. Power was restored to all but 344 customers by Wednesday night...Lawrence County Coroner Micah Coffey said Greg Coleman, 40, his wife, Rebekah, 49, and their 19-year-old son, Gereck, died when the tornado destroyed their single-story, wood frame house at 1503 Lawrence County 183. The home had no basement."

It was in God's Hands - Birmingham News
"Dwight Johnson stood on Lawrence County Road 183 Wednesday and surveyed the mangled debris he and his neighbors had once called their homes. The 53-year-old man had two unattended bloody wounds on his face. Two of his horses were injured and had to be euthanized. Five of his border collie puppies were killed. But he counted himself lucky. A family of three who lived across the road from Johnson in the Aldridge Grove community were among four people killed and several dozen injured across north Alabama... "It was in God's hands," Johnson said as he walked through the rubble of his home....Terry Long, 39, was on Lawrence County 183 with his wife and 2½-year-old child in their white SUV, racing to get away from the storm. The tornado picked up the SUV and carried it 100 to 150 yards, Long estimated. "You had no control of your vehicle. You were just up in the air spinning," he said. "It totally engulfed us. I was trying to get my baby out of the car seat and into the floorboard."


Here are some pictures from a friend...I plan on posing more soon:


Dewdrop said...

Very impressive coverage, Mike. So tragic.

Mike Wilhelm said...

Thanks, Dew. Thanks to everyone for visiting. So many sad stories, weird stories, and miraculous stories....