EF-3 tornado causes substantial damage in southern Coosa County
Some of the damage sustained in the Nixburg community. Photo by Chris Mann
There was extensive damage in the Equality and surrounding communities. Photos by Zachary Chapman
By Christa Jennings
Senior Staff Writer
Only 12 days into the year, Central Alabama has already had 27 confirmed tornadoes during the course of severe thunderstorms January 3-4 and last Thursday, January 12.
Southern Coosa County was one area impacted by last week’s tornadoes, with one tornado crossing through five counties before dissipating.
Out of last week’s nine tornadoes in Central Alabama, and 14 across the entire state, the one that crossed Coosa County had the longest track. With a final update provided Wednesday, the tornado had a long-track path of 82.31 miles and was at least 1,500 yards wide.
The tornado, called the Old Kingston-Lake Martin Tornado, was rated an EF-3 with estimated peak winds of 150 mph. While there were no reported injuries and no fatalities in Coosa County, the tornado caused seven fatalities and 16 injuries.
Beginning in Autauga County at 12:40 p.m. last Thursday, the tornado continued through Elmore, Coosa, Tallapoosa, and Chambers counties before dissipating at 2:08 p.m. in Chambers County. The National Weather Service of Birmingham confirmed that the tornado was on the ground for an hour and 20 minutes.
With its 82.31-mile track, it is one of the 10 longest tornado tracks on record in Alabama, coming in at number 6 on the list.
Per the National Weather Service, “Numerous strong to severe thunderstorms impacted Central Alabama during the morning and afternoon hours of Thursday, January 12, 2023. Several supercell thunderstorms spawned significant tornadoes which caused paths of damage over several areas. Thunderstorms also produced damaging straight-line winds over many areas, as well as hail up to golf ball size. A total of nine tornadoes occurred across Central Alabama. Notably, the Old Kingston-Lake Martin EF3 Tornado had a long-track path of over 82 miles and was at least 1,500 yards wide. This tornado caused 7 fatalities and at least 16 injuries.”
This tornado began west of U.S. Highway 82 near Independence, crossed the highway and strengthened as a manufactured home was rolled along Autauga County Road 40. Over the next two miles, the tornado continued to strengthen as it approached the Old Kingston community, with EF-3 damage beginning along County Road 43.
At this location at least three manufactured homes were obliterated with their frames thrown up to 100 yards. A pickup truck was also sent airborne and landed 120 yards to the northeast, where a shallow crater was formed by its impact.
The tornado became deadly as it impacted several homes along Sandy Ridge Road, with numerous trees snapped and manufactured homes being “shredded and thrown considerable distances.” In total, five fatalities occurred along Sandy Ridge Road at three separate residences.
A total of two fatalities in two separate residences occurred along Autauga County Road 140. In addition to damage and destruction of homes, numerous vehicles were picked up and thrown, with one pickup truck having its cab separated from the bed.
As it continued, in the three mile stretch of most severe damage from Autauga County Road 43 to County Road 42, wind speeds reached at least 150 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
“Based on the damage scene and contextual evidence, it is plausible that winds were stronger. However, with only manufactured homes in the path, there appear to be no damage indicators that will allow a higher rating,” the NWS stated in its survey results.
Eventually the tornado crossed Interstate 65 and made its way into Elmore County and crossed the Coosa River, affecting Neely Road on the west bank and Kelly Road on the east bank, as well as nearby roads.
As the tornado continued and crossed Grays Ferry Road on the northeast side of Titus in Elmore County, the volume of snapped pine trees increased notably. NWS reported that countless trees were snapped and uprooted as the tornado moved northeastward toward the Elmore/Coosa County line at U.S. Highway 231.
Per NWS’s survey results, “Structural damage continued to consist of roof uplift or removal and damage from wind-blown debris and fallen trees. Radar showed a debris ball in southern Coosa County which matches ground observation of a truly extensive area of snapped pine trees at and on either side (downstream and upstream) of the southern portion of McKissick Road, located between the communities of Speed and Equality. The volume of snapped trees was enough to assign an EF-3 rating for this segment of the tornado’s path. Additional significant damage occurred along County Road 18 where vehicles were moved or flipped, numerous trees were snapped, and site-built homes were heavily damaged with one destroyed. This was another area assigned EF-3 intensity. The tornado continued northeastward toward the Coosa/Tallapoosa County line where additional, relatively less, intense timber damage was noted.”
Tornado damage continued into Tallapoosa County with a corridor of damaged timber observed along Cedar Creek and Elkahatchee roads. This area of the county sustained EF-1 damage.
The tornado eventually crossed the northern section of Lake Martin as it continued to damage homes and timber. Some homes sustained significant damage with entire roofs blown away and exterior walls collapsed or removed, and at least two homes were shifted from their foundation.
“The high-end EF-2 damage here could be partly due to the interaction of the tornado with the lake surface, as well as the exposed nature of these homes since most structures inland seemed to be ‘sheltered’ from adjacent heavily wooded areas,” according to the NWS report.
The tornado continued and crossed U.S. Highway 280 as it moved across the rest of Tallapoosa County, causing varying degrees of EF-0 and EF-1 ranged damage.
It continued northeast into Chambers County where it caused additional swaths of primarily timber damage in the EF-0 to EF-1 range. The tornado began its final weakening stage as it neared Highway 77, dissipating shortly after crossing Chambers County Road 114.
Of the 14 tornadoes that hit Alabama last Thursday, nine were in Central Alabama, three in Southwest Alabama, one in North Alabama, and one in Southeast Alabama.
Zachary Chapman of Equality captured video footage of the tornado in Titus, which has been posted on “The Coosa County News” Facebook page. Unfortunately, the tornado went on to destroy Chapman’s home, as well as many others.
Volunteers joined together with agencies to help those impacted by the tornado. For information on those efforts and other avenues of assistance, see the accompanying articles in this week’s edition.