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Tornadoes in Georgia

Tornadoes are spinning air columns extending from a supercell thunderstorm and connecting to the ground. They are characterized by fast rotating speeds and intensities. As such, when they move on the ground, they often destroy man-made structures, uproot trees, and hurl objects through the air like dangerous missiles.

Tornadoes are also known as twisters. They vary in appearance, size, and intensity. While some take a conventional funnel shape, some may form a rope-like shape. Also, some tornadoes have a churning and smokey appearance, while others may be virtually invisible, with only the swirling of dust or debris at ground level indicating the tornado's presence. Most tornadoes are short-lived, lasting only a few minutes and producing substantially slower winds than 100 miles per hour. However, some tornadoes are very intense and destructive, and they can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, and their winds can reach speeds of up to 300 miles per hour.

Tornadoes, while more common in the Great Plains States, can occur in any state, including Georgia. They are the most severe weather-related disasters in the state. Tornadoes are largely unpredictable and can strike at any time of year, therefore, it is vital to plan ahead of time. Residents are encouraged to develop and practice tornado survival methods.

Science Behind Tornadoes

Tornadoes form when the air becomes extremely unstable, with winds at various altitudes flowing in different directions or speeds—a situation known as wind shear. Twisters are more likely to form when atmospheric conditions are conducive for severe thunderstorms. They require a few key components, including heat and moisture at lower altitudes, cold air overhead, a favorable wind field that increases speed with height, and changes in wind direction at lower levels.

As a result, when the right combination of heat, moisture, air, and wind exists, spinning thunderstorms capable of producing a tornado or a family of tornadoes can form. Thunderstorms are often formed when there is an updraft, a phenomenon that occurs when warm-humid air is thrust upward over cool-dense air. The updraft will begin to rotate if there is a considerable change in the wind's speed or direction. As the storm rolls on, more warm air is supplied to the updraft, increasing the rotating speed of the revolving updraft, also known as a mesocycle. The presence of cold air fueled by the jet stream (a powerful band of wind that flows across the atmosphere) generates even more energy.

The condensation of water droplets in the moist air created by the mesocyclone results in the formation of a funnel cloud. The funnel continues to spread, eventually breaking through the cloud, and becomes a tornado when it makes contact with the earth. When it touches the ground, its violent fast-spinning winds pick up dust, debris, and—if the speeds are high enough—animals, vehicles, roofs, mobile homes, trees, and anything else that is not well-anchored in the ground.

Tornadoes also frequently occur due to friction when a hurricane is about to make landfall. In most circumstances, a storm will form over water, and in that case, it cannot be prevented. This is because no land masses, structures, or wildlife are present to slow or impede the surface winds. Hence, the winds at higher and lower altitudes are the same when a hurricane is over water. However, as the outer bands of a storm approach land, the winds below bounce off trees, buildings, and other objects, slowing them. But the currents in the higher altitudes remain unchanged. This wind speed variation at different heights can cause tornadoes to form.

How Tornadoes Are Measured

Tornadoes can be predicted because certain conditions make them more likely. However, there is no way to adequately predict when, where, how intense, or how many tornadoes will form due to a thunderstorm. Still, meteorologists can provide warnings and signals to areas at risk of tornadoes by first identifying the indicators that precede the creation of a tornado.

Tornadoes have too much energy for anemometers(wind speed sensors). The United States currently uses the Enhanced Fujita scale to determine tornadoes' wind speeds. On this scale, tornadoes are classified as EF-0 (the least powerful) through EF-5 (the most powerful) on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

EF Scale Rating Wind speed (mph)
0 65-85
1 86-110
2 111-135
3 136-165
4 166-200
5 Over 200

Tornadoes of the EF-5 category are the rarest and most intense, with winds exceeding 200 miles per hour.

Tornado Consequences

Tornadoes have severe consequences, including the loss of human lives and property and the devastation of wildlife and plant life. Unlike other types of severe winter storms or hurricanes, tornadoes are limited to a relatively small geographical region(usually a few 100m wide). However, because of their higher force density, they can cause severe damage to the surrounding areas.

The extremely high winds accompanying tornadoes damage residential and commercial properties as they pass through a community. Winds can also bring down bridges, derail trains, toss autos and trucks, and remove the bark from trees. Additionally, strong winds have the potential to hurt or kill people who are thrown across the ground or from unsafe heights. Many tornado casualties are injured from being hit by flying debris, such as roofing tiles, broken glass, doors, or metal rods.

Tornadoes can cause varying degrees of damage based on their intensity, size, path, time of day, and length of time they linger on the ground. They also disrupt a wide range of services, including transportation, power, water, gas, and communications, not just along its route but also in the near vicinity. Thunderstorms can also result in hail, heavy rain, and flash floods. Overall, tornadoes in Georgia have the potential to affect individuals, families, communities, and even the government in some way.

Georgia Tornado Threat Profile

The entire state of Georgia is at risk for tornadoes. They have been documented in the state every year, but the months of March through May are the most frequent, with April being the most likely month for intense or violent tornadoes (EF2 or greater). Although Georgia has seen a few EF-4 tornadoes (the most recent on April 27, 2011, in Catoosa County), the state has never had an EF-5 tornado.

Every year, multiple variables contribute to Georgia experiencing tornado activity. Thunderstorms primarily create tornadoes, and a few critical variables lead to thunderstorm formation: warm and humid air and atmospheric instability caused by warm air ascending into the atmosphere.

When Is Georgia Tornado Season?

Tornadoes can occur at any time of year in the Gulf of Mexico states; however, the season of increased tornado risk begins in early spring. Rising temperatures and increased humidity mark spring in Georgia. Spring temperatures in Georgia can reach the 80s, making it a hot state. The heat causes air to rise into the atmosphere, where it can cause thunderstorms and tornadoes.

Georgia also lies close to the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Warm and humid air masses from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean contribute to severe thunderstorms, which can occasionally cause tornadoes to form.

Due to the passage of weather systems from west to east, cold fronts that originate in the midwestern United States (for example, Kansas and Oklahoma) or the mid-South (for example, Alabama and Mississippi) generally make their way to the Southeast. Because warm air is less dense than cool air, warm air rises into the skies when cold fronts combine with warm, humid air masses streaming into Georgia. They often bring the most severe weather (including intense tornadoes, massive hailstorms, and other such phenomena) to those places before moving on to Georgia. Even if the thunderstorms are less violent by reaching Georgia, they could still produce tornadoes.

Georgia Tornadoes Alleys

Georgia is in the Dixie Alley, a term for areas in the Southern United States prone to high intense and violent tornadoes. The region encompasses the majority of the land in the lower Mississippi Valley. It starts in eastern Texas and Arkansas, travels through Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia, and finally passes into far western Kentucky.

The city of Atlanta, Georgia, and the metropolitan area that surrounds it are no strangers to extreme weather, particularly tornadoes. According to Tornado Climatology Statistics acquired by the National Weather Service's Peachtree City Office, the state's northern area looks to feature a minor tornado alley. This alley is located in a triangle formed by the cities of Atlanta, Marietta, Canton, and Cartersville. It runs from a point near Rome via Gainesville, Newnan, and back to Rome. Between 1950 and 2006, this geographic area was reported to have seen over 130 tornadoes.

Additionally, the alley's geography considerably influences the frequency and type of severe weather that may be encountered in this part of Georgia. For instance, Atlanta has the highest elevation among major cities in the state. The city is positioned on the foothills of the Appalachian Mountain range, with its elevations exceeding 1,000 feet. Another element contributing to Atlanta's vulnerability to severe weather is its closeness to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, which create an abundance of moisture essential to fuel severe weather.

Georgia Tornado History

In the last fifty years, Georgia has been affected by more than 1,450 tornadoes. Although March, April, and May have historically been the most active months for tornado activity in the state, tornadoes can occur at any time of year, including during the winter:

  • In February of 2000, three powerful tornadoes ripped through Mitchell and Worth counties, killing 21 people.

  • During an outbreak in March 2008, the Metro Atlanta region was hit by an EF2 tornado. causing half a billion dollars in damage to the city of Atlanta, including the CNN Center, the Georgia Dome, the Georgia World Congress Center, and several other structures.

  • In March 2012, the state was slammed by eight tornadoes in three days. The outbreak caused up to $12.64 million in damage.

  • In January 2013, an EF3 tornado struck parts of north Georgia, injuring 17 people and causing severe damage.

  • The Tornado Outbreak that occurred on Easter in 2020 was the most significant tornado occurrence of 2020. During the tornado outbreak, the NWS Atlanta/Peachtree City forecast zone was struck by 21 confirmed twisters.

  • On April 5, 2022, an EF-4 tornado swept through Pembroke, Georgia, killing one person. This tornado is the most intense so far in 2022. According to an early NWS report, the tornado began to the west of the Bryan County courthouse and proceeded to uproot trees and damage structures.

Preparing for Tornadoes in Georgia

Creating a disaster plan will help ensure that households are prepared for any unforeseen occurrence, including a tornado. This plan often involves procedures to receive and identify tornado alerts, gather supplies, determine shelter location(s), design evacuation plans, and secure finances, valuables, and family pets. Furthermore, it involves conducting regular weather drills to review plans and ensure that household members are familiar with the details.

All family members must be taught how to stay safe during the drills. For example, they must be able to recognize locations that may pose a threat during a tornado. It is worth noting that storm shelters or basements give the best protection during a tornado. Individuals living in homes without such facilities may seek shelter during a tornado in an indoor room or corridor on the lowest possible floor. During a tornado, those in high-rise structures should seek shelter in a low-level interior corridor or a tiny room within the building. After securing a safe position, individuals are urged to take cover behind or underneath something sturdy or strong to shield their heads and bodies from falling objects or flying debris.

Get Tornado Insurance

Tornado cyclonic winds can destroy automobiles, homes, businesses, and outdoor landscaping. Georgia residents are advised to purchase adequate tornado insurance to protect their finances, properties, and other possessions.

Tornadoes can rip roofs off houses and break windows, causing significant property damage. They can also cause trees to fall into properties, demolish fences, and cause structural damage to buildings in general. A home's vulnerability to harm is significantly influenced by its design and location. Because Georgia has an Atlantic Ocean coastline, residents in coastal areas are vulnerable to hurricanes, and tornadoes are a common threat induced by these storms.

Homeowners should verify their insurance policy to ensure that tornado damage is covered. Although most policies include this coverage by default, some may not give any protection at all. In that case, purchasing a separate tornado insurance coverage is best. If tornado damage renders a home inhabitable, insurance plans may help with temporary housing or relocation to a new location.

Tornadoes can also cause damage to automobiles. Vehicle owners should consider getting comprehensive coverage to protect their vehicles from tornado damage. Tornadoes can damage many valuables besides homes and cars. As a result, individuals who own boats, recreational vehicles (RV), art, and other valuables should consider insuring them against tornado damage.

Make Home Modifications

In the event of a tornado, members of a household should ensure that they have a designated safe space on the ground floor or in an inner room to seek refuge in. If they have the means, they may even decide to build a storm shelter in their home to withstand the impact of tornadoes. Individuals that live in an area where tornadoes are common should look into the possibility of constructing a storm shelter in their home.

Homeowners can also strengthen the structures of their homes to protect them from the severe destruction caused by tornadoes and to reduce the cost of rebuilding after the storm has passed. Some beneficial adjustments include:

  • Secure any outdoor fittings, such as signage

  • Ensure that the construction crew uses high wind-rated materials anytime there is work to be done on the structure, whether for maintenance or renovations

  • Keep electronics in a secure location

  • Reinforce garage and entry doors to make them wind-resistant

  • Install impact-resistant windows.

Follow Tornadoes Warnings and Alerts

Weather forecasting agencies issue tornado warnings and alerts to advise the general public if a tornado is reported or indicated by weather radar. The forecasts warn people of imminent tornadoes and give them enough time to seek shelter and protect their belongings.

The National Weather Service (NWS) issues these alerts:

Tornado Watch

This means tornadoes are possible within and near the watch region. Residents are encouraged to review their disaster plans, check their supplies, and prepare their safe rooms when this notice is issued. If a tornado warning is issued or there is reason to believe a tornado is on its way, they must be ready to respond swiftly. Early action is crucial.

A Tornado Watch is issued when conditions are favorable for tornado formation. People in the watch region and nearby locations should watch the sky, listen to weather radios, and check in with local broadcast media outlets for more meteorological information.

Tornadoes Warning

This indicates a tornado was identified by weather radar or a credible tornado report was received from the field. It also suggests that there is an immediate danger to life and property. When this warning is issued, people should go underground as soon as possible, preferably into a basement, storm cellar, or interior room (closet, hallway, or bathroom).

Tornado Emergency

A tornado emergency is an advanced version of a tornado warning that is issued when there is a high probability of an oncoming tornado in a heavily populated area. A tornado emergency frequently signifies that severe, widespread damage is likely and a high likelihood of a large number of fatalities from a large, strong, or violent tornado.

These enhanced alerts are meant to emphasize to the general public the significance of the current weather condition. They warn people to take immediate safety preparations if they are in or near the expected path of a large tornado or a thunderstorm.

Other tornado warning signals include a dark or green sky, large hail falling, an approaching cloud of debris, or a thunderous boom that sounds like a freight train. Meanwhile, other ways to obtain weather predictions, watches, and warnings in Georgia include:

  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio

  • County Alert Systems

  • Television Stations

  • AM/FM Radio that airs Emergency Alert System (EAS) messages

  • Smartphone Applications

  • Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA).

Assessing Your Tornado Risks

Tornadoes are possible throughout Georgia. Thunderstorms are Georgia's most common natural disaster; when they do come, they frequently bring tornadoes. Furthermore, hurricanes that originate in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico can hit the state. These storms may also produce tornadoes.

What to Do During a Tornado in Georgia

When tornado watch is issued, residents in the watch area must listen to credible sources, such as the National Weather Service in Jacksonville, commercial radio, television stations, and the NOAA Weather Radio, to stay up to date on the most recent weather forecasts. They must be ready to act immediately.

Staying Safe if Indoors

Once a warning is issued, and a tornado is coming, residents (indoors) must:

  • Wear protective clothing and sturdy shoes to protect themselves from flying debris
  • Get to their designated shelters spots
  • Maintain a safe distance from any windows, doors, or walls that lead outside.

Staying Safe if Outdoors

Individuals that are outside must:

  • Seek shelter immediately without waiting until they see the tornado

  • Seek shelter in a ditch or low-level area if they cannot reach a shelter or building on time

  • Cover their head and neck with their arms and the rest of their bodies with a coat or blanket

  • Not try to flee a tornado in a vehicle

  • Look out for flying debris, which can cause severe injury or even death

  • Continue to pay attention to the information provided by the local authorities.

Staying Safe if Driving

Individuals caught in their vehicles during a tornado must:

  • Make every attempt to drive to the nearest fortified shelter

  • Safely park and pull over if they observe flying debris

  • Crouch below the windows and shield their heads with hands and a blanket if they must remain in the vehicle

  • Lie in a spot that is visibly lower than the level of the roadway if they can get out of the car safely.

Staying Safe if in a Mobile Home

During tornadoes and other severe windstorms, mobile homes should be avoided. People living in mobile homes are especially vulnerable since these dwellings frequently lack a basement or solid internal chamber where residents can seek shelter. When a tornado warning is issued for an area, those who live in mobile homes should make plans to relocate to a storm shelter or another storm-resistant structure.

They may seek shelter in the nearest ditch, low point, or underground culvert if there are no other options for cover in the immediate vicinity.

What to Do After a Tornado in Georgia

After a tornado, residents must stay informed by listening to the local news or NOAA Weather Radio to stay updated on the most recent information and guidance. Individuals that evacuated during the storm should not return until the authorities state otherwise.

Persons who are trapped must make an effort to draw attention to themselves. They could try to send a text message or dial 911. They could also make noise by beating on a wall or pipe or blowing a whistle to draw rescuers' attention.

Get Help for Injuries

People may sustain injuries as a direct result of a tornado's impact or as a result of walking among debris and entering damaged structures after the event. Residents of affected areas must protect themselves by seeking medical attention for any wounds sustained during the storm and exercising extreme caution to avoid any subsequent dangers. It is critical to remember that in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, such as a tornado, there may be a severe shortage of resources and emergency personnel. This means that household members may be obliged to care for their families, homes, or businesses for a while with little or no assistance. Once the tornado has passed, everyone in the storm's path should:

  • Examine all people and pets for injuries

  • Trained individuals should help injured individuals and provide first aid till emergency personnel show up

  • Move all seriously injured people if they are in danger of further injury

  • Start CPR if any individual has stopped breathing

  • Apply direct pressure to the bleeding injuries to stop or reduce the bleeding

  • Clean and disinfect open wounds and cuts with soap, water, and antibiotic ointment

  • Let medical professionals examine any severe wounds, such as puncture wounds.

Find Loved Ones

A detailed disaster plan could assist family members in locating each other after a tornado has passed. This is because the strategy is often designed to assist household members in staying in touch or reconnecting after a storm. In circumstances where household members cannot be reached, concerned parties should:

  • Dial their missing family member's phone number during off-peak hours for the best chance of reaching the receiver. This is because the high volume of calls flowing into and out of an affected area may cause mobile signals and landlines to become jammed.

  • Send text messages instead of phone calls since the messages may be sent even if calls do not go through.

  • Examine the missing person's social media accounts (such as Facebook, Twitter, and others).

  • Contact family and friends who may have previously communicated with the lost family member or acquaintance.

  • Make contact with the member's social circles, including their neighbors, jobs, schools, and, if possible, religious institutions.

  • Contact local law enforcement authorities.

Make Damage Assessments

Following the assurance of everyone's safety, damage assessments are performed to provide essential resources and give a permanent record of the aftermath. During this time, Georgia residents are advised not to enter damaged buildings until they have been deemed safe. Additionally, they should wear protective clothing, exercise extreme caution around debris, and be careful of shattered glass, nails, and other sharp objects.

Damage assessments must evaluate a structure's interior and exterior with the assistance of skilled professionals such as contractors or building inspectors. Inspecting the property's exterior for any signs of structural difficulties is critical. Some of the warning indicators include:

  • Bowed or sagging roof

  • Cracked staircases

  • Damaged Chimney

  • Spaces between door and window frames.

People may attempt to enter the structure if there is no evident damage on the exterior. They must look for structural deterioration symptoms such as the following:

  • Twisted or bent walls

  • Cracks in the drywall or plaster

  • Slanted floors

  • Doors or windows that fail to open or shut.

During these assessments, taking photos and videos of the impacted parts of the property and the damage from every possible vantage point is essential. The property owner may undertake emergency and temporary repairs to prevent further damage. However, they are advised to wait for instructions from the insurance company before making any permanent repairs.

Patching holes or broken windows, reinforcing walls, and removing debris, are examples of emergency or temporary repairs. Furthermore, owners should save all receipts and precise records of their spending and repairs.

Assess and Report Broken Utilities

After evaluating the property's structural elements, the next step is to inspect the critical systems and utilities to determine what repairs are required before the residence is habitable. Utility cables and wires may be jolted out of place or damaged during the weather. Hence, the assessment involves looking for sparks and broken or frayed parts in electrical, plumbing, and heating systems. It also entails inspecting gas lines, telephones, and household appliances. The owner must ensure safety and then contact the relevant utility company if there is any damage.

Some utility providers in Georgia include:

  • Electricity
    Georgia Power Company
    Phone: (888) 660-5890

  • Natural Gas
    Georgia Public Service Commission
    244 Washington Street, Southwest
    Atlanta, GA 30334-9052
    Metro Atlanta: (404) 656-4501
    Fax: (404) 656-2341
    Email: gapsc@psc.ga.gov

  • Cable and Phone

    • AT&T
      3422 Wrightsboro Road
      Suite 400
      Augusta, GA 30909

    • Comcast
      105 River Shoals Parkway
      Augusta, GA 30909
      Phone: (800) 266-2278

File Insurance Claims

Because documentation is crucial in insurance claims, it is the obligation of every property owner who wants to get insurance money to repair their home or business to document the damage. Property owners are encouraged to take photos and videos, make inventories of damages, and hold off on disposing of any damaged property (that does not pose a risk to human health) until their insurance adjuster has had the opportunity to inspect it.

It is critical to provide the insurance company with the documents it requests. The policyholder must cooperate with the investigation of the claim made against them, which may include supplying specified documents or papers when requested. Suppose the policyholder is unable to provide the required evidence. In that case, the insurance company can refuse to pay the claim because the policyholder is in breach of their policy conditions. A "proof of loss," which is a sworn declaration stating the total worth of the loss, may be requested by an insurance company. Homeowners are advised to seek legal advice before submitting proof of loss to ensure that they do not jeopardize their claims.

Property owners can establish long-term repair plans when the coverage is sorted.

Get Disaster Assistance

After a catastrophic event affecting multiple states or counties, the United States President may declare a Federal Declaration of Major Event. If one declaration is issued allowing for Individual Aid, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Individuals and Families Program has the potential to provide financial assistance to qualified households in the amount of up to $35,500. FEMA enrollment and instructions will be distributed via news releases and traditional and social media.

The program is made up of two main components:

  • The housing assistance program reimburses homeowners for housing repairs once they have remodeled their properties.
  • The other needs assistance program reimburses qualifying applicants for out-of-pocket payments for replacing necessary belongings such as vehicles, vital home equipment, and child care.

In counties affected, FEMA and the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency (GEMA) may also create recovery centers where affected individuals obtain assistance from federal, state, and local agencies.

Other resources: