Mrs. McG being a weather service employee, we have weather news on by default — so we were aware all day yesterday of the tornado outbreak in Alabama. And Georgia being east of Alabama, our awareness was not purely academic.
Today being a work day for her, she chose not to try to stay up in case the storms didn’t dissipate before reaching us, but I stayed up a little longer and became aware of a new tornado warning in Alabama at about 10:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (9:00 p.m. CDT in Alabama) between Birmingham and Montgomery. I checked the weather radar app on my tablet and saw that the storm was in fact headed generally in our direction. I let Mrs. McG know, but didn’t worry much — severe weather in Alabama has a habit of losing energy as it crosses into Georgia. I kept watching, but only casually.
I shouldn’t have counted on the radar app to be fully up-to-date with storm warnings; just before 11:00 p.m. our time I noticed that the tornado warning associated with the storm was gone as it was still in Alabama. As a result, I went to bed. In fact, the warning was still active right up to the state line.
Both our phones erupted with alerts around 11:30 as the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for our area and declared a tornado emergency for Newnan. At the same time, county tornado sirens sounded. They’re not intended to be audible inside homes, but we’re unusually close to one. Over the next fifteen minutes the lightning, thunder, and rain intensified at our house, and the power was interrupted twice. Mrs. McG looked outside to see whether the predicted large hail materialized here, but she saw none.
Suddenly, around midnight, the tumult ended and an eerie silence descended. We listened hard for the sound of an approaching freight train (the nearest actual railroad tracks are some miles from here, so a train actually approaching our house would be exactly what you’re thinking), poised to seek shelter. Eventually I shook off the drama and... turned on the TV.
The Weather Channel was focused on Newnan at that moment, highlighting the unique radar signature of a tornado “debris ball” in the downtown area of Newnan, and clearly not a threat to our neighborhood. I texted “We’re safe” to my brother in California, who pays almost as much attention to our weather as we do, and we settled in to watch the coverage, which eventually fizzled out as the tornadic circulation vanished from the Doppler radar well to our east at around 1:00 a.m.
Downtown Newnan got hit hard by all accounts; last night the police department was strongly advising people to stay off the street while emergency and utility crews assessed the damage and got to work. That advice is still in place this morning, and Mrs. McG and I are content to comply today. The COVID panic increased her office’s willingness to allow people to work from home, and her shift today was so scheduled weeks in advance. I have somewhere to go tomorrow, which will involve crossing the tornado’s damage path, but not through downtown.
The high school, damaged months ago by a minor tornado spawned by the carcass of Hurricane Delta, was damaged again last night, and all schools in the county are closed today. One death in Newnan has been blamed on the tornado, but I don’t currently have details. UPDATE: Fox 5 Atlanta news item
We’ve lived at the extreme eastern end of “Dixie Alley” for over 20 years, and this is the closest we’ve come to tangling with a truly dangerous tornado.
I’m ready to move to Wyoming anytime. The supervolcano will give more warning.
Update: I should not have written that last sentence above. Many years ago, as I was struggling to finally complete my undergraduate degree in Sacramento, I had an on-campus job working for the alumni foundation that ran, among other things, the campus bookstore. One day — October 17, 1989 — my supervisor and I were called up to a foundation executive’s office to hang a picture for her. Normally, hanging a picture in an executive’s office involves piercing the drywall and hanging the picture on the nail or whatever. However, the wall the executive wanted her picture displayed on turned out to be load-bearing — reinforced concrete. Fortunately my supervisor knew the building (and the executives) and had come prepared. It took considerably more effort than I had expected, but we got that picture hung.
And I turned to the executive and joshed, “When The Big One hits, your picture will stay up.” She and my supervisor were suitably amused.
The reason I remember the exact date of this incident is, later that afternoon the National League Champion San Francisco Giants were to host the American League Champion Oakland A's at Candlestick Park for Game 3 of the “Bay Bridge” World Series. That game did not start as scheduled. I swore that evening never to make jokes about natural disasters ever again.