Powerful storms kill at least six people in U.S. Southeast

Satellite image of the severe storms moving through the Southeast on November 16, 2011. Image Credit: NOAA

On Wednesday, November 16, 2011, a strong cold front pushed through the southeast United States and triggered severe thunderstorms and tornadoes across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia.  At least six deaths occurred as severe storms swept through.  One man was killed in Forsyth County, Georgia, after a large tree fell on his SUV as he was driving north on Brookwood Road in the Atlanta area. In Rock Hill, South Carolina, a tornado killed at least three people and injured five others. Two people were killed in Davidson County, North Carolina.  At least 78 tornado warnings were issued on November 16 from Louisiana to North Carolina. Out of the 78 tornado warnings issued, 19 actual tornadoes were reported.  Here are the preliminary storm reports from November 16, 2011:

Storm reports from the Storm Prediction Center for November 16, 2011. Blue dots represent wind reports and red dots represent tornado reports.

Three tornadoes (all from one storm) hit parts of Alabama.

– The National Weather Service (NWS) confirmed that an EF-2 tornado with maximum sustained winds of 120 miles per hour (mph) hit parts of Sumter County. After causing damage in the city of Whitfield, it moved northeast, uprooting trees and damaging houses and outbuildings.  One injury was reported from this tornado.

– An EF-0 tornado with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph hit parts of Marengo County.  The tornado touched down in Demopolis and stayed on the ground for 250 yards. Minor roof damage was reported with this weak tornado. Fortunately, no one was injured.

– The third tornado hit near Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama. This storm was rated EF-1 with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph. The tornado hit just south of Auburn University, damaging some houses as well as a baseball field at Auburn High School. This tornado had an extraordinary path length of damage – 33 miles – making it a long-track tornado. As you can recall, most tornadoes are short-lived, only lasting a few minutes. This one affected parts of Macon and Lee Counties and destroyed a dozen mobile homes.

Radar image showing a storm producing an EF-1 tornado south of Auburn, Alabama.

The same tornado that moved through Auburn, Alabama pushed into Hamilton, Georgia.

The tornado strengthened to the EF-2 level with maximum wind speeds estimated around 125 mph, and injured two people in Harris County. It also caused damage to a 911 center, a Harris County school complex, and an animal shelter.

Tornado damage in Hamilton, Georgia. Image Credit: NWS
Damage to a mobile home in Hamilton, Georgia. Two people experienced minor injuries when the tornado struck their home. Image Credit: NWS

In South Carolina, an EF-2 tornado with maximum sustained winds around 135 mph hit five miles southwest of Rock Hill.  Three people were killed and numerous others injured by this tornado. It touched the ground in a path 2.5 miles long and 200 yards wide.

EF-2 tornado in Rock Hill, South Carolina around 5:40 p.m. Image Credit: Martha Cook

At least ten people were injured in a severe storm that could have spawned a tornado south of Lexington, North Carolina.  Many buildings were damaged, leaving hundreds of people without electricity, and two people were killed.

Bottom line: November is the secondary severe weather season for the Southeast as cold air from the north begins to push further south. When two different air masses collide, causing instability and making moisture available, severe weather is possible.  The storms killed at least six people across the Southeast and injured many more.  The strongest tornado of November 16, 2011, was probably the one in Rock Hill, South Carolina, with maximum sustained winds of 135 mph. Weather models are suggesting the Southeast could see one or two more additional severe weather events before December 15.  Overall, severe weather is not unusual for this area for this time of year. The crazy weather occurring in 2011 continues.

November 18, 2011

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