The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

January 31, 2013

After storms, cold and quiet to follow

From staff, wire reports
The News Courier

— Cold but quiet weather is expected the rest of the week in the Tennessee Valley following a rash of thunderstorms early Wednesday that downed trees and interrupted power in Limestone County and spawned tornadoes and overturned cars across the Southeast, killing two.

Limestone damage

The storm system first slapped Limestone County in the predawn hours, overturning a gazebo on U.S. 72 and toppling the steeple of First Cumberland Presbyterian Church on U.S. 72, east of Rogersville and tearing holes in the roof.

Limestone County Emergency Management Agency reported a number of trees down in various County Commission districts, though no property damage, an EMA spokesperson said.

Also, high wind blew out a window in a home on Elm Street.

Both limbs and lightning triggered outages in Limestone County.

A limb landed on a power line tripping a breaker at Athens Primary Substation about 5 a.m. in central Limestone County, knocking out power on several roads, including Airfield Street, Alabama 127, and Sewell, Piney Chapel, Old Elkmont and Coffman roads, according to Athens Utilities Customer Relations Manager Amy Golden. Power was restored just before 6 a.m.

Another outage occurred around 10 a.m. off U.S. 31 near the county water tower in the Tanner community, after lightning struck a cross-arm on a utility pole, causing it to go offline, Golden said. That outage took workers a little longer to repair, she said.

Statewide impact

Statewide, the strong thunderstorms left thousands of people without power, causing scattered damage and forcing schools to delay opening as a precaution.

Alabama Power Co. said about 13,600 homes and businesses were left in the dark, but crews were out working in the rain to restore service.

In Winston County, powerful gusts raked a small airport in Addison, damaging a hangar and flipping a plane.

Numerous school systems in central Alabama delayed opening because of what forecasters said was a high risk of damaging winds. The University of Alabama also opened late.

Temperatures dropped from around 70 degrees into the 50s in North Alabama after the front passed.

The weather service issued flash flood warnings for several areas, saying the storm system could bring as much as 4 inches of rain in a few hours.

Region impact

In northwest Georgia, the storm system tossed vehicles on Interstate 75 onto their roofs. The highway was closed for a time, and another main thoroughfare remained closed until crews could safely remove downed trees and power lines from the road.

WSB-TV in Atlanta aired footage showing an enormous funnel cloud bearing down on Adairsville, about 60 miles northwest of Atlanta, as the storm ripped through the city’s downtown area. The system flattened homes and wiped out parts of a large manufacturing plant. Pieces of insulation hung from trees and power poles, while the local bank was missing a big chunk of its roof.

One person was killed and nine were hospitalized for minor injuries, state emergency management officials said. Residents said no traces remained of some roadside produce stands — a common sight on rural Georgia’s back roads.

One other death was reported in Tennessee after an uprooted tree fell onto a storage shed where a man had taken shelter.

Officials also confirmed that a tornado — with peak wind speeds of 115 mph — touched down in Mount Juliet. No serious injuries were reported there, though the path of damage was about 150 yards wide, including homes, a warehouse and an automotive business.

Better ahead

The National Weather Service in Huntsville predicted highs today and Friday in the low to middle 40s, with lows in 20s.

The weekend should bring highs in the upper 40s to lows in the 50s.

Rain may fall Saturday, but Sunday is expected to be dry.

The National Weather Service had issued a string of tornado warnings and watches as a line of storms moved through the state, but officials didn’t report any touchdowns or injuries. Flash flood warnings were issued in several areas after 4 inches of rain fell in a few hours.