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By: Angela Fritz , 7:17 PM GMT on January 31, 2013
iWitness weather user fshelton25 says he was driving home on Interstate 75 in Adairsville, Ga. on Wednesday, Jan 30 when he saw a wedge tornado right in front of his car.
On Monday evening I knew that there was a significant risk of severe storms, including torandoes, in the South on Tuesday and Wednesday, but I have to admit that I didn't expect the horrible damage I've seen coming from Adairsville, GA and the surrounding area. After all, it's January, which is historically the least active month for tornadoes in the United States. Though that doesn't rule them out, and it especially doesn't rule them out while we've been seeing record-breaking January warmth across much of the country.
The residents of Adairsville, Georgia are picking up the pieces today, but yesterday they saw tornado warnings posted a full 20 minutes before the tornado struck, and even more lead time if they saw the warnings for the southwest corner of Bartow county, which was warned before them, though didn't include the city of Adairsville yet. The National Weather Service office in Peachtree City, GA has rated the tornado as a high end EF-3, with winds of 160 mph. It was on the ground for 21.8 miles, and was approximately 900 yards wide.
Here's the Adairsville tornado timeline from Wednesday:
8:10 a.m.: The Storm Prediction Center issues a tornado watch for all of north and part of central Georgia valid until 4 p.m.
10:21 a.m.: The NWS-Peachtree City issues its first tornado warning an area that includes the southwest corner of Bartow County, the county where Adairsville is located. This first warning technically did not include the city of Adairsville.
10:59 a.m.: A second tornado warning is issued. It includes Adairsville and areas southeast of Calhoun. This was issued 20 minutes before the tornado hit Adairsville, and 26 minutes before it hit areas southeast of Calhoun.
11:19 a.m.: The tornado hits Adairsville.
11:25 a.m.: The tornado hits southeast of Calhoun, according to radar estimates.
A vehicle lies on a road after a tornado moved through Adairsville, Ga. on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013.
Significant historical January tornado outbreaks
Georgia has seen 92 January tornadoes from 1950-2011. However, Georgia has not had any tornadoes on record in January (1950-2011) stronger than EF-3. The most tornadoes on a January calendar day in Georgia was 11 on January 13, 1972.
Historically, January has been the least active month for tornadoes in the U.S. According to the Tornado History Project, during the 61-year period 1950 - 2010, 1223 January tornadoes occurred--an average of twenty per year. There have been two Januarys with no reported tornadoes--2003 and 1986. In 2012, there were 95 preliminary tornado reports, which was well above the historical January average of 35.
The most recent significant January tornado outbreak occurred on January 1, 2011, when seven tornadoes, including two EF-3s, touched down in Mississippi, injuring two people.
The most prolific January tornado outbreak on record occurred January 21 - 22, 1999, when 126 tornadoes, including one violent F-4, hit Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Texas, and Alabama, killing nine people. A separate outbreak four days earlier, on January 17, spawned 22 tornadoes.
On January 7 - 11, 2008, a series of 75 tornadoes hit the U.S. This second busiest-ever U.S. January tornado outbreak hit southwestern Missouri, northwestern Arkansas and the surrounding areas the hardest. A strong supercell in northern Illinois and southeastern Wisconsin produced that region's first January tornadoes since 1967. Four people were killed, and the tornadoes did $88 million in damage. Fifteen strong EF-2 and EF-3 tornadoes were reported.
The deadliest January tornado since record keeping began in 1950 occurred on January 23, 1969, when an F-4 tornado hit a 5-county region south of Jackson Mississippi, killing 32 people.
According to wunderground's Weather Historian Christopher C. Burt:
"The deadliest tornado event in January was that of January 3, 1949, when an F4 tornado (or perhaps a family of two or three according to Grazulis) killed 55 people in Union, Calhoun, and Bradley counties in Arkansas. This event produced (at least) 12 significant tornadoes of F2 or stronger intensity in Louisiana and Arkansas. There were an additional 5 deaths in other locations aside from the 55 from the single event I mentioned above. So, I'm quite sure the 60 deaths on Jan.3, 1949 was the deadliest January tornado day on record."
The Adairsville, GA tornado on January 30, 2013. Preliminary rating is an EF-3. Video from Shane Smith of tornadovideos.net.
Dr. Greg Forbes, Jonathan Erdman, and Dr. Jeff Masters contributed to this blog.
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