NWS Stats via Storm Data

Path length: 68.04 miles

Max Width:  1600 yards

Fatalities:  23

Injuries:  97

Rating:  EF4

County:  Macon, Lee (AL) / Muscogee, Harris, Talbot (GA)

The deadliest tornado in the country since the Moore, OK EF5 on May 20, 2013 occurred on March 3, 2019.  23 were killed in Lee County, AL.  97 were injured along the tornado’s path.  This was the second highest injury total in 2019.  The Dayton area tornado of May 27 caused 166 injuries.  A total of 40 tornadoes were confirmed on this day and the Beauregard/Smiths Station/Talbotton tornado was the strongest with a rating of EF4.   This was the first violent tornado to hit Lee County, AL since March 20, 1875.  Per Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes, an estimated F4 hit the Opelika area.  7 were killed and 20 were injured.

This significant tornado began near Rogers Road just north of US Highway 80 in far NE Macon County, AL.  Numerous pine trees were uprooted during its 2.75 mile trek through this county.  Per the NWS Birmingham, damage was consistent with winds near 88 mph (EF1).  Strengthening was noted as the tornado was crossing into Lee County near Lee Road 812.

Peak intensity was reached in Lee County.  This occurred just south of the intersection of Lee County Road 36 and Lee County Road 39.  Max winds were estimated at 170 mph.  Here are some of the damage details from the NWS Birmingham survey:

  • A manufactured home was rolled and its contents were emptied nearby on the northern side of the track.
  • Complete destruction of a house with all debris tossed a short distance from the foundation.
  • The frame of a car was bent around the remnant of a large tree whose upper portion had broken off and totaled three vehicles by severe impacts into the bases of two remaining tree stubs.
  • East of this area, on the other side of a small lake, a well-anchored and constructed home was leveled with debris removed from the foundation and anchored bolt screws remaining in tact.
  • Two double-wide and a single-wide manufactured home was destroyed.

This violent twister began to decrease in intensity as it paralleled Lee County Road 39.  In this rural area, several manufactured homes were destroyed and debris was thrown from their original positions.  Metal frames from at least 2 homes were never found.  At least one high-tension power line tower was toppled north of Lee County Road 39.

Some weakening continued as the tornado tracked across Lee Road 38.  A large amount of debris was deposited in a forested area.  At Lee County Road 40 and Lee County Road 2049, the exterior walls and roof of a family home were removed.  Additional significant damage occurred to several manufactured homes.

This tornado made its approach to Smiths Station and crossed through the northern part of town.  Damage in this area was consistent with a rating of EF1/EF2.  Roof damage occurred to a restaurant.  There was billboard damage and a cell tower collapsed.  Before crossing the Chattahoochee River into Georgia, the tornado caused roof damage to some houses near the river and downed a metal high-tension power line tower.

The American Red Cross estimated 225 homes were destroyed in Lee County with another 133 homes sustaining major damage.

This tornado, now an EF1, crossed into Muscogee County, GA in the Standing Boy Creek State Park.  Initial damage in the county was to softwood trees.  As the twister moved across US Highway 27 it intensified and caused EF3 damage.  A large cell tower was toppled and approximately a dozen metal guidewires attached to the tower measuring over one inch in diameter were snapped.  Winds were estimated by the NWS Peachtree City at 140 mph in this area.

Just west of Heiferhorn Creek, the tornado entered Harris County.  Most of the damage along the 12.83 mile trek through the county was to trees.  There were a few homes with that had significant damage to their attics or top floor.  The damage was mainly in the EF2 range.

This significant twister continued into Talbot County and it strengthened to an EF3 along Highway 315.  The Humble Zion Church was demolished with no walls left standing.  It was constructed of cinder blocks and mortar.  The tornado moved across the northern part of Talbotton.  Along the main north-south road through town, a few manufactured homes were completely turned over.  Debris from the homes were thrown over a quarter of a mile.  Two apartment buildings collapsed.  Several cars were blown several feet from where they were parked and one sedan was rolled up onto the top of a small pick-up truck.  Seven injuries were reported in the Talbotton area.  The tornado finally ended just east of the intersection of George Smith Road and Carl Mathis Road in Talbot County.

23 people were killed as a result of this destructive tornado, all in Lee County, AL.  The victims ranged in age from 6 years old to 89 years old.  A family of three and a family of four perished.  Here is a list of the names of the victims from the Montgomery Advertiser.

Jonathan Marquez Bowen, 9

Vicki Braswell, 69

Sheila Creech, 59

David Dean, 53

Marshall Lynn Grimes, 59

Armando “AJ” Hernandez, 6

Emmanuiel Jones, 53

Jimmy Lee Jones, 89

Mary Louise Jones, 83

Mamie Roberts Koon, 68

Irma Gomez-Moran 41

Charlotte Ann Miller, 59

Ryan Pence, 22

Maggie Delight Robinson, 57

Raymond Robinson Jr., 63

Tresia Robinson, 62

Eric Jamal Stenson, 38

Florel Tate Stenson, 63

Henry Lewis Stenson, 65

James Henry Tate, 86

Taylor Thornton, 10

Mykala Waldon, 8

Felicia Woodall, 22

The large number of fatalities associated with this tornado led to an analysis by the Structural Extreme Event Reconnaissance Network (StEER).  They noted that 19 of the 23 fatalities occurred in manufactured homes.  From their executive summary:

“1. Lack of proper anchorage in both older site-built homes, and manufactured homes of all ages, appears to be a key contributor to the enhanced fatality rates observed in the EF4 Beauregard/Smith Station tornado.”

“2. Significant material degradation due to corrosion and other natural processes is frequently being observed in the lateral and vertical wind load paths of manufactured homes.”

“3. Newer site-built homes and engineered buildings provided adequate life-safety protection, even in the EF4 tornado, despite damage to the building structural system. In contrast, new manufactured homes were not able to protect life safety, due in large part to a lack of sufficient anchorage.”

StEER recommends further investigation into the unique aspects of the tornado vulnerability of rural communities, particularly for mobile and manufactured homes. Careful reconsideration should also be given to current codes and regulations which fail to protect life safety in the strongest tornadoes and property damage in EF2 and lower tornadoes.”

Tornado Path

Click map to Enlarge

SPC coordinates:  Start: 37.6945 / -88.65   End:  37.7996 / -88.1926

Used NCDC County coordinates as well      

Note:  Exact tornado path may not be straight and/or continuous.

Radar and Damage Photos via NWS Birmingham

Click to Animate

EF3 damage East of Cave Mill Road (Lee County)
EF3 Damage - All walls collapsed (Lee County)
EF3 Damage - Destroyed home (Lee County)
EF2 Damage - Completely destroyed of manufactured home, debris blown away from site (Lee County)
EF3 Damage near County Road 39 (Lee County)
EF4 Damage - Trees debarked with only stubs of largest branches remaining (Lee County)
EF4 Damage - All walls collapsed (Lee County)
Collapsed cell tower near Smiths Station (EF2)
Aerial view of path

Radar & Damage Photos via NWS Peachtree City

Velocity (4:01 PM EST)
Correlation Coefficient showing the presence of lofted debris (4:01 PM EST)
Collapsed microwave tower - EF3 damage in Muscogee County
Destroyed Zion Church - Talbot County
EF3 damage to a home north of Talbotton

Newspaper Clippings

Sources:

The Storm Prediction Center

NCDC Storm Events Database – Macon County, AL

NCDC Storm Events Database – Lee County, AL

NCDC Storm Events Database – Muscogee County, GA

NCDC Storm Events Database – Harris County, GA

NCDC Storm Events Database – Talbot County, GA

NWS Birmingham Summary

NWS Peachtree City Summary

StEER Assessment of the Tornado Event

newspapers.com

“Improperly Anchored Mobile Homes Involved in 19 of 23 Deaths in Alabama Tornado.” Weather Underground, www.wunderground.com/cat6/Improperly-Anchored-Mobile-Homes-Involved-19-Of-23-Deaths-Alabama-Tornado.

Fiscus, Kirsten. “Lee County, Alabama, Coroner Releases Names of 23 Victims Killed in EF-4 Tornado.” The Montgomery Advertiser, Montgomery Advertiser, 7 Mar. 2019, www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/2019/03/05/who-are-beauregard-alabama-tornado-victims-identified-names-released/3065278002/.

Grazulis, Thomas P. (1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991: A Chronology and Analysis of Events. St. Johnsbury, VT: The Tornado Project of Environmental Films. Page 582.

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