Tornado Outbreak of March 20, 2003

During the early morning hours of Thursday, March 20, 2003, a deadly tornadic thunderstorm pushed northeastward along a squall line that was crossing the Eastern Florida Panhandle and Southwest Georgia. In its wake, the storm left six people dead, hundreds injured, and a path of destruction that extended from the Panhandle coast all the way into central Georgia. The paths of the two tornadoes, and locations of other significant damage are included in Figure 1 below. A loop of radar reflectivity from the KTLH radar in Tallahassee, FL, is available for most of the event in Figure 2. Following is a preliminary assessment of the deadly tornadic thunderstorm.

This image depicts the damage paths of the two tornado touchdowns along with locations of other major damage during the severe weather event of Thursday, March 20, 2003.
Figure 1. The damage paths of the two tornado touchdowns along with locations of other major damage during the severe weather event of Thursday, March 20, 2003.

The tornadic storm initially came ashore in extreme southwest Bay County, Florida, at approximately 0730 UTC (1:30am CST). The cell rapidly developed a circulation and may have become tornadic in the northern part of the county. The storm did destroy a home in Fountain around 0807 UTC (2:07 am CST) before continuing across the northeastern Florida Panhandle into Jackson County, where the first confirmed tornado touchdown occurred. An aerial survey revealed an 8-mile discontinuous damage path extending from two miles west of Grand Ridge to five miles north of Sneads. This tornado injured four people and was on the ground for approximately 15 minutes. Figure 3 shows the KEVX (Eglin AFB) radar reflectivity image at 0853 UTC (2:53 am CST) when the tornado was on the ground near Grand Ridge. Figure 4 shows the associated storm relative velocity image.

The tornado apparently lifted before the storm entered extreme Southwest Georgia. Nevertheless, the storm was still potent enough to damage three homes, one in the Seminole County town of Reynoldsville, and two others in the Decatur County town of Mount Pleasant. During this time, torrential rains were streaming in off the gulf of Mexico. In a three-hour period, five inches of rain fell in Panama City, where the resulting flooding on Highway 98 stranded some motorists.

The storm turned deadly as it crossed into Mitchell County. It is estimated that the tornado reached F3 strength on the Fujita scale and was on the ground for 25 minutes with a damage path of 19 miles. Figure 5 shows the KTLH radar reflectivity image at 1012 UTC (5:12 am EST) when the tornado was on the ground near Camilla. Figure 6 (below) shows the associated storm relative velocity image. The tornado produced extensive damage along its path. Dozens of mobile and frame homes were destroyed. In Camilla alone, there were over 150 homes damaged. Unfortunately, four people were killed in this area with over 200 sustaining injuries. An aerial photgraph (Figure 7) shows the extent of the damage. Unbelievably, another F3 tornado followed nearly this same track back in February 2000. Some residents in Camilla rebuilt homes destroyed by the tornado three years ago, only to find their new homes damaged or destroyed by this tornado.

This image depicts the storm relative velocity image from the KTLH radar at 1012 UTC (5:12 am EST) on Thursday, March 20, 2003.
Figure 6. The storm relative velocity image from the KTLH radar at 1012 UTC (5:12 am EST) on Thursday, March 20, 2003, when the tornado was on the ground near Camilla, GA.

The tornado continued northeast into Worth County where two more people were killed and many more homes were damaged or destroyed. Damage was also reported further northeast in Ben Hill County, where an elementary school and church steeple were damaged.


000
NWUS52 KTAE 230632 CCA
LSRTLH

PRELIMINARY LOCAL STORM REPORT...CORRECTED FOR TORNADO EVENTS
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE TALLAHASSEE FL
130 AM EST SUN MAR 23 2003

TIME(EST) .....CITY LOCATION..... STATE ...EVENT/REMARKS...
....COUNTY LOCATION....

1220 AM CHOCTAW BEACH FL WIND DAMAGE
03/20/03 WALTON TREE BLOWN DOWN ON MOBILE
HOME. REPORTED BY EMA.

0130 AM 2 S HARTFORD AL WIND DAMAGE
03/20/03 GENEVA DOWNED TREES AND POWER
LINES. REPORTED BY LAW
ENFORCEMENT.

0307 AM FOUNTAIN FL POSSIBLE TORNADO
03/20/03 BAY HOME DESTROYED. POWER
LINES DOWN. REPORTED BY
EMA.

0350 AM 2 W GRAND RIDGE-5 N SNEADSFL TORNADO
03/20/03 JACKSON *** 4 INJ ***
8 MILE DISCONTINUOUS
DAMAGE PATH. TWO MOBILE
HOMES DESTROYED. ONE
HOME DESTROYED. 15 HOMES
DAMAGED. THOUSANDS OF
DOWNED TREES AND POWER
LINES. TIME DURATION 15
MINUTES. REPORTED BY EMA
AND CAP/NWS AREIAL SURVEY.

0415 AM REYNOLDSVILLE GA WIND DAMAGE
03/20/03 SEMINOLE SEVERAL HOMES DAMAGED.
NUMEROUS TREES AND POWER
LINES DOWN. REPORTED BY
EMA.

0430 AM PANAMA CITY FL FLOODING
03/20/03 BAY UP TO 5 INCHES OF RAIN
IN THREE HOURS FLOODED
HIGHWAY 98 WITH CARS
STRANDED. REPORTED BY
TV METEOROLOGIST.

0445 AM MOUNT PLEASANT GA WIND DAMAGE
03/20/03 DECATUR 2 HOMES DAMAGED. CHURCH
DAMAGED. NUMEROUS TREES
AND POWER LINES DOWN.
REPORTED BY EMA.

0505 AM 5 SW CAMILLA-6 N SALE CITYGA TORNADO
03/20/03 MITCHELL EXTENSIVE DAMAGE. MANY
HOMES DAMAGED AND
DESTROYED. THOUSANDS OF
DOWNED TREES AND POWER
LINES ALONG A 19 MILE
DAMAGE PATH. TIME DURATION
25 MINUTES. REPORTED BY
EMA AND CAP/NWS AERIAL
SURVEY.

0505 AM CAMILLA GA TORNADO
03/20/03 MITCHELL *** 4 FATALITIES ***
*** OVER 200 INJ ***
MORE THAN 50 HOMES AND
MOBILE HOMES DESTROYED.
150 HOMES DAMAGED. SEVERAL
BUSINESSES DESTROYED.
REPORTED BY EMA AND CAP/NWS
AERIAL SURVEY.

0530 AM 4 SW TO 2 E BRIDGEBORO GA TORNADO
03/20/03 WORTH NUMEROUS TREES AND POWER
LINES DOWN. MANY
STRUCTURES DAMAGED OR
DESTROYED. TIME DURATION
10 MINUTES. CAP/NWS AERIAL
SURVEY.

0540 AM 2 E BRIDGEBORO GA TORNADO
03/20/03 WORTH *** 2 FATALITIES ***
SEVERAL HOMES DAMAGED AND
DESTROYED. TREES AND POWER
LINES DOWN. REPORTED BY EMA
AND CAP/NWS AERIAL SURVEY.

0600 AM FITZGERALD GA WIND DAMAGE
03/20/03 BEN HILL DAMAGE TO ELEMENTARY
SCHOOL AND CHURCH STEEPLE.
ROOF BLOWN OFF A HOUSE.
REPORTED BY CONTRACT
OBSERVER.

0855 PM NORTHWEST PORTION FL WIND DAMAGE
03/20/03 JEFFERSON TREES DOWN ON OLD LLOYD
CREEK RD AND ALONG
HIGHWAY 90 WEST OF
MONTICELLO. REPORTED BY
EMA.

$$

MAJ

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