During the busy weather events of Sunday afternoon, I couldn't help but think of how much technology has improved over the years. Anyone who watched WRBL's over-the-air coverage or followed us through social media (which can later be tracked to confirm) knew if they were in the path of dangerous weather and (importantly!) who wasn't.
Technology alone doesn't do it, though. Experienced meteorologists and weather observers have to interpret the data correctly and be able to communicate their interpretations so people know what is coming. We love to say we're "keeping you safe", but in reality we are giving people the best information we can muster so they can act in order to be safe. Even back when the technology was not as advanced, I always saw my role as giving citizens more details than they could get from a mere text product or a computer-generated voice. We're still aiming for that as broadcast meteorologists, now with visual aids that are much better.
And I have to mention that a number of hostile comments came in to the station because a football game was at times interrupted for critical warning information, though a majority were appreciative. I'll echo WRBL's General Manager David Hart in saying that the station is licensed by the FCC to provide a public service to viewers, and information about life-threatening weather is one major way we fulfill that. Our methods can be tweaked from time to time because we do try to serve all who turn to us for entertainment and information, but our license covers a wide area outside of Columbus in smaller towns like Eufaula, Cusseta, Talbotton, and Buena Vista as well as rural counties, so we must serve them as well.
No confirmed tornadoes were reported on Sunday (see SPC map) but clearly some of the damage likely came from tornado touchdowns. Surveys will be done by NWS meteorologists in the next day or two to determine exactly what happened.*
In Columbus, the tree and power line damage were from straight line downburst winds that likely exceeded 60 miles-per-hour; there was no tornado in the city. In fact, the sirens originally sounded for a Severe Thunderstorm Warning, but somewhat confusingly a Tornado Warning was issued shortly after that included only a small sliver of Muscogee County near Upatoi Creek, so according to policy the city had to run them again. If one siren goes in this county, they all do.
Almost all of the trouble yesterday came from just one supercell that formed in a line of strong storms very close to a northward-moving warm front. Sometimes a warm front can impart rotation in an otherwise normal storm that can spawn twisters along the cell's path. That one storm resulted in tornado warnings for more than 100 miles as it moved rapidly northeast, even into eastern Georgia, though it's almost certain the surveyors will not find an unbroken tornado track for that long. Such a tornadic supercell usually has cycles, which makes warnings tricky and shows our technology can still only go so far. Surface map from 7 PM Sunday: warm front had moved north
It's interesting that Columbus was right on the northern borderline for the severe activity. Auburn/Opelika and Harris County stayed out of the warm sector, and storms that made it there weakened below severe levels. The severe storms were south in the warm sector (or as mentioned, right along the warm frontal boundary). Plus we had the mid-afternoon timing, which tends to be near the peak of severe activity, so it seems like we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Bottom line though: NO injuries have been reported from these storms! That is just what meteorologists like to hear.
*Surveys on Monday afternoon found at least EF1 damage in a part of Stewart County with more likely as the survey continues, and an instance of EF2 damage in Upson County north of Thomaston. The survey should be completed Tuesday.