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Palm Sunday Killer Tornados
About North Georgia

by Larry Worthy, Editor-in-chief
exclusively for About North Georgia

Synopsis: On March_27, 1994 (Palm Sunday) "supercells" of tornadoes moved from northern Alabama, into North Georgia and on to South and North Carolina. The 12 supercells spawned possibly 30 individual tornadoes, 15 in the state of Georgia alone. Of the 42 who died, 18 were within the state of Georgia. Only Alabama had more.

Saturday morning at 2:00 am, March_26, 1994 the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a bulletin that included the "possibility of isolated supercells with a threat of tornadoes." Later that evening tornadoes touched down in Cobb County, Paulding County, Hall County, Stevens County and White County, Georgia as warm, moist air from the surface was rapidly being covered by an incoming upper level cold front that extended from north central Alabama into north Georgia. The front stalled, essentially creating a path through northern Alabama and north Georgia that these storms could follow. At 9:18am the following morning a storm system the meteorologists were watching moved to the Mississippi-Alabama border and developed enough for the NWS to issue Tornado Watch No. 4, which covered northern and central Alabama. They knew this storm was serious-the rating system used by the meteorologists, incorporating factors like temperature difference and humidity, gave the storms an 8.4, and a 2.0 means tornadoes are likely to form.

Sunday morning, March_27, 1994, started off like many previous Palm Sundays for members of the Goshen United Methodist Church, three miles south of Piedmont, Alabama. It had traditionally been heavily-attended in this deeply religious farming community of 5,000, only 25 miles east of Cedartown, Georgia. That morning 20 members died when a tornado struck the church at 11:35. Only the church nursery was spared. Ham radio operator Jack Blair's wife and daughter went to that morning service. After the tornado struck Jack made his way to the church, broadcasting to the world, "The roof has exploded. I see one house, the top all gone. Power lines down. Vehicles wrecked ... rescue squad on the scene." His wife lay dead, his daughter severely injured.

The storm (or mesocyclone) that spawned the Piedmont tornado moved east into Georgia. At 12:14 pm observers reported a funnel cloud -- a category F4 tornado had landed in Floyd County, Georgia. According to the NWS, supercell outbreaks of tornadic activity such as the one that was now moving into the state are "infrequent." Infrequent or not, over the next eight hours Georgia residents would be repeatedly raked by heavy rain, hail and high winds.

With a report of a funnel cloud from a credible observer, members of the Peachtree City, Georgia National Weather Service team had a lot of work to do. First, they upgraded all area tornado watches to tornado warnings and quickly sent the information out over their network. A minute after the first report, the F4 tornado was in Bartow County, moving east and tearing up infrastructure at an alarming rate.

Although most tornadoes have a life of a few minutes, Storm No. 5 (the NWS designation of the tornado) spent 32 minutes on the ground in Bartow County alone. Leaving a path of utter destruction, killing two people and injuring 14, this storm destroyed property in extreme northwest Cherokee County, crossing Salacoa Ridge in the rugged Cherokee Highlands and continuing into Pickens County where it added more death and destruction to its toll. Tornado #5 alone accounted for 3 deaths and 20 injuries.

As Tornado #5 moved east the funnel cloud dissipated over Pickens County, but the storm that had formed it continued moving east along the boundary of the stalled cold front. A second tornado from the same storm, designated #9 by the NWS, formed over Dawson County (east of Pickens), crossing Lumpkin County, and coming to an end in Habersham County, in Georgia's northeast corner.

The southern border of Rabun County is defined by the Tallulah River, the geological formation Tallulah Gorge, and the small town of Tallulah Falls, which spans Rabun's border with neighboring Habersham County. East of here, the Chattooga River creates the South Carolina border. A third storm from the same mesacyclone, designated Tornado #12 formed over Habersham County as Tornado #9 died, continuing the earlier storm's path of destruction by moving east into Rabun County, passing directly over Tallulah Falls about 5 minutes after 2 p.m, that Sunday, causing extensive destruction.

Crossing Tallulah Gorge into Rabun County, the F3 storm did extensive natural damage to the North Rim Trail. Continuing on to the Chattooga River, Storm #12 snapped trees and deposited them into the gorge. One still sits atop "Deliverance Rock." By the time the supercell moved into North and South Carolina, taking with it Storm #12 and its' mile-wide path, a second supercell had entered the state following roughly the same track as the first. Although "only" an F3, this storm killed 8 people in Pickens County, making it the most deadly tornado in Georgia that day.

As the cold front slowly pushed south F0-F3 storms struck northwest Georgia at about 6:00 pm that evening, causing some destruction, but no deaths were associated with these storms. By the end of the day these "killer tornadoes" left in its path a death toll of 42 people and 320 people injured. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calculated the property damage at 107 million dollars

There is a plaque at the Goshen Springs Methodist Church in Alabama that reads "Sometimes God calms the storm. Sometimes he lets the storm rage and calms the child."

Now take our Tornado Quiz and find out how much you have learned and how much you know.


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