A decade after destruction: Straight-line winds, tornado dealt a double blow to Floyd, Bartow and Polk counties on April 27, 2011. In Georgia, 13 would die with more than 100 injured.

A decade after destruction: Straight-line winds, tornado dealt a double blow to Floyd, Bartow and Polk counties on April 27, 2011. In Georgia, 13 would die with more than 100 injured.


Chicken houses destroyed on Mountain Home Road (Polk/Floyd County line). Weather service.

Ten years ago this morning, perhaps the longest day in local history would explode. Soon after 8 a.m., the police scanner erupted with continuing reports of “trees down” in and around Cave Spring. The storm, if you can call it that, was moving north. The skies were dark but not as dark as most severe weather systems. There was rain but not the downpours we usually see, especially in the spring months.

But outside the radio studio on John Davenport, as we sat in what seemed to be a perpetual commercial break, we watch the trees along the banks of Dry Creek bending toward Martha Berry — repeatedly. Gust after gust. We scrambled to get the first reports broadcast, taking almost verbatim what was shared on the police scanner and repeating it amid calls to shelter in place. Within minutes, power would go out at the transmitter site and we were left with just the ability to webcast rather than go out over the air.

There was much more to share that morning.

To our north, the Berry College campus was a swirl of tree debris. Branches, limbs, leaves moving left to right at incredible speeds. By the time the winds eased, more than 1,000 trees would be down across the college’s thousands of acres. Some landing on buildings; others were historic oaks around which graduation ceremonies had been staged. Old Dalton Road was hammered as well with one resident recalling a tree on her home as she sheltered with a newborn.

Damage reports came in all day, with some keeping a fearful eye on the weather forecast for the evening and overnight hours. The straight-line winds were just a prelude; killer tornadoes were on the way.

When it ended, 13 were dead and more than 100 others injured across the state but mostly in Northwest Georgia. Catoosa County would see seven fatalities and 30 hurt. Dade and Walker — two dead, 50 injured.

Ten people were injured by tornadoes that night in Floyd, Bartow and Polk counties with millions of dollars in damage as well.

Here’s how the weather service recorded that night:

9:25 p.m. Polk, Floyd, and Bartow counties

Four people injured: A National Weather Service survey team determined that an EF2 tornado with maximum winds of 125 MPH moved across extreme northwest Polk, south Floyd, and Bartow Counties Wednesday evening. The tornado touched down about 6 miles southwest of Cave Springs in Polk county around 845 PM EDT Wednesday. It lifted about 4 miles southwest of Kingston in Bartow county around 9:25 p.m. The path length was 26 miles long and had a width of a half mile wide. More than 13 structures were destroyed and in addition about 10 chicken houses were destroyed.

9:25 p.m. Bartow, Cherokee, and Pickens counties

A pickup truck pushed into a pool by a tornado in Bartow County. Weather service photo.

Six people injured: A National Weather Service survey team along with the Cherokee county Emergency Management determined that an EF3 tornado with winds of 150 MPH touched down around 9:25 p.m. Wednesday evening. It tracked from 5 miles northeast of Kingston in Bartow County, crossing northwest Cherokee County, and lifted approximately 7 miles west of Jasper in Pickens County near the intersection of Jerusalem Church Road and State Highway 53 at approximately 945 PM EDT. The path length was 23 miles and width was a half mile. Several chicken houses were destroyed along Interstate 75, several outbuildings were destroyed and hundreds of trees were downed in Bartow County. Hundreds of trees were snapped or uprooted in Cherokee County. Extensive damage was reported along Henderson Mountain Road and Bryant Road in Pickens County where several mobile homes were destroyed. At least 3 injuries were reported with this tornado, two in Bartow and one in Pickens.

An even deadlier toll: As battered as Floyd, Bartow and Polk counties were that night, the real story was to our north. For more on all the storms from that outbreak, please click here.

“A strong area of low pressure lifted through the Ohio valley allowing a cold front to sweep through the lower Mississippi valley during the evening hours of April 27th. Ahead of the front, increased moisture emanating off the Gulf of Mexico combined with a potent upper level system to produce widespread severe weather. All of north and central Georgia was placed under a moderate risk of severe thunderstorms and northwest Georgia was covered by a rare high risk area. As the evening progressed, a Tornado Watch was issued with the designation of PDS, or Particularly Dangerous Situation, indicating a high potential for strong and long lived tornadoes. Numerous long-tracked tornadoes, including several EF-5 tornadoes, raked over much of the southeast states causing extensive damage and, unfortunately, loss of life. In total, 15 tornadoes tracked across the Peachtree City forecast area, which includes most of north and central Georgia. As of May 3, the total number of confirmed tornadoes from April 25-28 had grown to 178. The previous record for a multi-day event was April 3-4, 1974 when 148 tornadoes occurred/”

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