On Friday, May 2, 1997, at about 740 pm EDT, a tornado hit a mobile home park just to the southwest of Chickamauga in Walker County, Georgia. Three mobile homes were destroyed in the park, and a total of 28 homes/mobile homes had damage varying from moderate to being totally destroyed. Homes were moved off their foundations and many trees down and twisted.
A 9 year old girl was killed in the mobile home park and her 25 year old brother was injured and hospitalized. However, all other reported injuries were minor.
The fatality is the first tornado death ever recorded in Walker County, according to records kept by the National Weather Service. It was the first tornado death in the state of Georgia since November 1996 when one person in Dodge County perished.
The severe thunderstorm that produced the Chickamauga tornado was spotted by NEXRAD radar in northeast Alabama shortly after 7 pm EDT. (The image above is the Composite Reflectivity product produced by NEXRAD in Peachtree City at 714 pm EDT.) It was quickly determined that this storm was capable of spawning a tornado, so by 715 pm the National Weather Service in Peachtree City issued a tornado warning for Walker County. This provided people in the Chickamauga area a 25-minute advance notice of the approaching storm. A softball tournament in progress was halted when they heard the warning. They managed to get everyone off the field and to a safer place.
After ravaging the mobile home park, the tornado moved on into the city, where the last trace of damage was observed. According to the EMA director of Walker County the tornado initially touched down near the intersection of highways 136 and 193. The length of the damage path was about 10 miles. The width was pretty narrow, generally less than 100 yards.
Mobile homes are particularly vulnerable to potent thunderstorms. They rarely survive a hit by a tornado. If you are in a mobile home and receive a tornado warning, you need to know what to do.
Climatically speaking, the "heart" of Georgia's "tornado season" has nearly passed. However, a recent study found that strong tornadoes can occur in every month of the year. Always take warnings seriously!
by Gary Beeley and Terry Murphy with contribution from Dean Hutsell