Northwest Florida, South Alabama Tornado Event of 2/17/08
On the morning of Sunday February 17, 2008, a surface low pressure system tracked northeastward from Arkansas into Illinois. This surface low pressure system preceded a strong upper level trough that moved gradually eastward out of the Plains States. Strong upper level dynamics were in place across Southern Alabama and Northwest Florida on this Sunday ahead of a surface cold front moving east out of Mississippi. A strong southerly wind flow in the low levels of the atmosphere was bringing abundant Gulf moisture northward across the Florida Panhandle and the southern sections of Alabama. As temperatures rose into the lower and middle 70s by early afternoon, the stage was set for a significant outbreak of severe storms. As a squall line approached from Eastern Mississippi, a supercell thunderstorm formed just south of Fort Morgan, Alabama well ahead of the squall line. This supercell thunderstorm continued to track northeastward for the next few hours, producing several tornadoes from the extreme Western Florida Panhandle to West Central Georgia.
A survey team from the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Mobile has been assessing storm damage across the Western Florida Panhandle and parts of Southern Alabama. Most of the damage reported to the National Weather Service occured along the track of a single supercell thunderstorm that formed ahead of the squall line moving east out of Mississippi. The supercell formed over Southern Baldwin County, moving northeast across the Western Florida Panhandle and portions of South Central Alabama during the early to mid afternoon hours. It appears that there was not a single long track tornado however, but more likely a series of tornadoes produced by the same parent supercell storm. The National Weather Service issued several tornado warnings and severe weather statements in conjunction with this severe weather event.
Additional Doppler Radar imagery can be found here.
A track of the parent "mesocyclone" can be found here.
A graphic depicting the local damage report locations can be found here.
...Damage in Molino (Escambia County Florida)...
The National Weather Service survey team has determined that the damage in the Molino area was the result of a tornado with winds of 100-110 mph, ranking this as an EF-1 tornado on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. The tornado first touched down west of Highway 29, and to the south of Molino Road. The tornado then moved northeast just to the south of Molino Road, to near Old Molino, and then crossed the Escambia River and dissipated just east of the river.
The tornado path was approximately 5 miles long and 200 yards wide at its widest point. The tornado damaged approximately 60 structures, with 40 of them uninhabitable. This damage occurred around Noon CST.
A tornado warning was in effect from 1146 AM CST until 1245 CST PM. No injuries were reported.
...Damage in Chumuckla (Santa Rosa County Florida)...
The National Weather Service survey team determined the damage near Chumuckla was the result of a tornado with winds of around 100 mph, ranking this as an EF-1 tornado on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. This tornado touched down just southwest of the intersection of Chumuckla Springs and Schnoor Roads and then moved northeast, ending just north of Howell Pitt road.
The tornado path was approximately 2 miles long and 75 yards wide at its widest point. Two homes suffered extensive roof damage, and a large heavy-duty metal shed was destroyed. This damage occurred around 1215 PM CST.
A tornado warning was in effect from 1146 AM CST until 1245 PM CST. No injuries were reported.
...Damage from Dixie to Fairfield (Escambia and Covington Counties in Alabama)...
The National Weather Service survey team determined the damage near Dixie was produced by the strongest tornado associated with the supercell storm, with winds of 130-135 mph. This ranks this tornado as an EF-2 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. This tornado first touched down over a heavily forested area about 5 miles southwest of the community of Dixie. It then moved northeast across the forest, crossing Highway 29 just to the west of Dixie. The tornado then continued northeast across heavily forested areas, moving into Western Covington county and eventually crossing County Road 42 just to the west of Fairfield. The tornado then dissipated just north of Fairfield.
The tornado path was approximately 15 miles long and 500 yards wide at its widest point. Significant tree damage occurred along the entire track of the tornado, with structural damage confined to the populated areas of Dixie and Fairfield. Three homes were destroyed in Dixie, and two large towers were damaged. Two occupants of one of the homes that was destroyed in Dixie got into an interior bathroom on the lowest floor of the two story house, and covered themselves with cushions. The tornado tore off the top story of the home and damaged the lower floor, but the two residents of the home were unharmed. Also of note, some century old headstones were blown over in a cemetery just north of Dixie. In Fairfield, an estimated five houses suffered damage and one housewas destroyed. The damage in Dixie occurred around 110 PM CST, and the damage in Fairfield occurred around 125 PM CST.
A tornado warning was in effect from 1229 PM CST until 130 PM CST for Escambia County...and was extended into Covington County at 112 PM CST valid until 215 PM CST. No injuries were reported in either Dixie or Fairfield.
Additional Storm Survey Information has been published by the NWS Forecast Office in Birmingham.