CULLMAN — Not that anyone needed clarification, but the tornado that hit Cullman was a big one.
The National Weather Service has confirmed the tornado that ripped through downtown Cullman was an EF-4 tornado, the second-largest classification possible.
Winds were gusting at more than 175-miles-per hour, and the tornado reportedly stretched 38 miles long.
“The NWS was in the city Friday, and they also did a fly over for an aerial view survey,” Cullman County Emergency Management Agency Director Phyllis Little said. “They figure that just the track that went through the city — not including Hanceville and in the county — was an EF-4 rating. This was a very powerful system, and we are very lucky not to have more loss of life or damage than we did.”
In an attempt to put the ferocity of the storm into perspective, National Weather Service representative Chris White said the tornado that hit Cullman rated a four out of five on the EF power scale.
“Only less than two percent of all tornadoes are that strong or stronger, especially when they track that long,” White said. “EF4 tornadoes normally have winds of around 175 miles-per-hour, and you’d see downtown buildings completely destroyed, and old homes in downtown destroyed. That is strong enough to completely obliterate mobile homes and leave the frames just mangled, and there can barely be anything left with winds that powerful.”
City officials have reports of at least 432 residences and 63 businesses damaged, though that number is expected to rise as more sites are assessed. Damage is so severe in some areas, including downtown, that police and National Guard have cordoned off heavily hit zones for safety concerns.
“We were hit hard, but we’re going to pull together and get to work,” Cullman Mayor Max Townson said at a Saturday morning press conference.
White explained the EF scale measures everything from the severity of structure damage to tornado trajectory to determine strength, which is why it can sometimes take a few days for the NWS to make a determination.
“Pretty much what we do on survey teams is look not only at what was destroyed, buy try to get a sense of the building standards, and how sturdy those buildings were that were destroyed,” he said. “We have a lot of different indicators that can tell us, and that includes wind engineers, meteorologists and so forth. We get out and look at if buildings are anchored and if homes were affixed to the foundation. To be rated as high as an EF4, that’s often due to mainly structural damage to residential homes, where they were generally completely removed from the foundations and scattered nearby. While we are seeing a lot of homes with interior and exterior walls gone, the debris is generally nearby, and not entirely wiped away.”
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