In what was originally forecast to be a somewhat typical line of strong thunderstorms on Tuesday night, Mother Nature had other plans for folks in the Sequatchie Valley and around the Southeast.
The lines of storms slowly began intensifying in the late afternoon and early evening hours as they passed over parts of Mississippi and North Central Alabama before reaching our area, and by the time they did arrive here…they’d built to what our team of meteorologists have described as “textbook Oklahoma super cells” as the storms moved into the valley and other areas of Tennessee.
While our team of Meteorologists and staff were reporting the weather live on Facebook, many residents say they felt the Weather Service did not give them much advanced warning in the Tuesday night storms. Others asked why we don’t have warning sirens in the area due to the amount of storms we see here on average.
While we don’t have all of the answers to that, we can say that the National Weather Service office in Morristown, Tennessee which is responsible for covering Marion County did place a watch for the Marion County area; however, that watch may have come later than it could have. Huntsville Alabama’s NWS office placed the counties it serves (including Jackson County and several southern middle Tennessee counties to our west) put the Watch out as early as 7pm CST. The Morristown office did not follow suit and didn’t place our area under a watch until around 10pm CST.
Shortly after the National Weather Service placed Marion County under that Tornado Watch (just prior to the actual storm cell this entering the county)…the Weather Service Office in Morristown quickly issued a Tornado Warning around 10:04pm CST.
The first line of storms to show the most violent effect on us had a history of tornado activity having caused the Huntsville Weather Service office to issue a warning for Jackson County in Alabama when spotters there confirmed a tornado was present from the radar indicated rotation. That storm quickly moved into Franklin and then Marion County in Tennessee across the lower Cumberland Plateau before crossing I-24 west of Kimball around and then heading toward Sequatchie and the Whitwell areas.
The cell eventually weakened resulting in the weather service cancelling the warning; however, folks in areas north of Whitwell may now think that was an inaccurate judgement.
Storm reports came in just a short while later of heavy damage to homes in that area north of Whitwell. The home and farm of Marion County Road Superintendent Jim Hawk were badly damaged including a roof blown-off and windows blown-out of the family’s home and several farm outbuildings damaged.
Several other homes in the area also saw damage as well as damage to trees and power lines seen up and down Alvin York Highway north of Powell’s Crossroads.
Marion County Mayor David Jackson said in a statement early this morning on his Facebook page, “We did have a tornado touch down in the north end of the county. There are homes that are damaged and some buildings that have been destroyed.”
Other reports from around the area stated homes in Sequatchie County were damaged just south of Dunlap including reports of damage to a mobile home park in that area. One home south of Dunlap was a total loss; however, thankfully no one in the home was reported to be injured.
In the south end of Marion County residents mainly saw heavy rain, thunder, lightning, and very strong winds as storm cell after storm cell moved through the valley well into the early morning hours near daybreak with wave after wave of intense rain and wind. Damage to property has been reported as minimal in Jasper, Kimball, and South Pittsburg with most being downed trees and limbs on properties due to the straight-line wind effects. Official storm reports have trained spotters reporting downed trees in the New Hope area as well.
Three injuries due to the storms have been reported in Marion County.
As a safety precaution and due to the amount of damage from the overnight storms in Marion County; officials with the Marion County Board of Education cancelled class for students and teachers at each of the district’s nine schools and alternative school in the county with Richard Hardy Memorial School officials doing the same for the safety and well-being of their students and faculty as well.
(Photos submitted by followers and readers on Facebook)
South of Marion County in Alabama and in Tennessee counties to our East and West, the devastation was far worse.
The National Weather Service has now confirmed that the Tullahoma area west of Marion County was hit by an EF-1 tornado in the Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning storms. While the area saw lots of damage, Tullahoma was spared of any storm-related casualties.
And a tornado blasting through northeast Alabama, part of the same storm system that moved through Tennessee, killed three people in a mobile home in Rosalie, AL and critically injured four children at a 24-hour daycare center, according to media reports. Jackson County EMA Director Mike Ashbury since confirmed those fatalities and injuries stating that three other people were taken to the hospital with injuries as well.
Storms intensified as they moved through the Hixson area and eventually over parts of Bradley and McMinn County in East Tennessee. Those storms went on to cause the most damage near Athens, Tenn.
A tornado touched down there overnight, which the National Weather Service has now confirmed. Several buildings were severely damaged and as many as 23 people have been injured, according to officials. The Weather Service has preliminarily categorized the tornado as an EF-2.
Authorities in McMinn County are still working on search and rescue efforts there.
The West Polk County Volunteer Fire and Rescue said today in a statement that the Ocoee area was hit by a “devastating tornado.”
The organization’s Facebook page reported Hwy 411 south of Hwy 64 had been shut down earlier this morning and that Polk County High School had been opened as a shelter. Polk County Emergency Management Agency confirmed early morning storms destroyed a fire station and damaged several other structures.
Nine counties in our area are reporting storm damage to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), with the most serious damage found in McMinn and Polk counties. Meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Morristown will be investigating those storm reports for Polk County and Sequatchie county to confirm whether or not that was the effects of a tornado.
MarionCountyMessenger.com will continue to follow the latest developments on this story and bring you updates as available. As always, stay with us for the latest.