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An EF-0 tornado packed 80-mph winds when it tore off a church roof in Bibb County

Here’s how a possible Wednesday night tornado impacted this church in south Macon

Pastor Jeremy Singletary of Gateway Fellowship Church talks on Thursday about how a possible tornado damaged his church in south Macon Wednesday evening.
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Pastor Jeremy Singletary of Gateway Fellowship Church talks on Thursday about how a possible tornado damaged his church in south Macon Wednesday evening.

The National Weather Service has confirmed that an EF-0 tornado touched down in southwest Bibb County on Wednesday.

The twister was birthed in a line of strong thunderstorms that moved across Middle Georgia that produced wind damage from Harris and Talbot counties to Bibb and Twiggs counties, the NWS said in a damage survey released Friday.

The tornado touched down near Sardis Church Road and Hartley Bridge Road about 4 miles north of Byron, snapping several trees including one that fell on a house. Several trees were sporadically snapped in two or uprooted from Barfield Road to near Interstate-75.

A portion of the roof of Gateway Fellowship Church on Skipper Road was torn off and thrown more than 100 yards, and a covered walkway cemented to the ground at the church was pulled and lifted out by the strongest 80 mph- winds of the twister, the report said.

The tornado then continued to skip east-northeast across the Skipperton area where more trees were toppled along Hartley Bridge Road to Houston Road before lifting just east of Ga. 129 and Hawkinsville Road about 6 miles from downtown Macon, the report said.

The “weak” tornado touched down about 5:35 p.m., creating a 200 -yard-wide path of about 7.6 miles before lifting at 5:45 p.m.

The findings mesh with Doppler radar at Robins Air Force Base, which had indicated a possible tornado forming west of Interstate 75 in the Hartley Bridge Road area - resulting in the NWS issuing a tornado warning late Wednesday afternoon.

The twister, produced and embedded in the thunderstorms, formed rapidly when Middle Georgia was not under a tornado watch.

“We use the radar data, and when the radar data was telling us there’s rotation … We can watch the reflectivity move into a shape of a hook,” Steve Nelson, a NWS meteorologist based in Peachtree City, said Thursday. “I’ve been using radar data for many years, and I just couldn’t take that chance, especially when it was in a populated area and crossing the interstate.

“So, it’s like: We’ve got to issue a tornado warning,” Nelson said.

The Bibb County Emergency Management Agency’s mass notification system sent out a tornado warning with instructions on what to do at 5:45 p.m. and sounded emergency sirens. The all clear came just after 6:15 p.m.

A tornado warning was also issued for Twiggs County, which may have experienced at least one or more weak tornadoes at its northern end, he said.

“Those would be actually hard to verify that they actually happened,” Nelson said. “If in a remote area on private land and it was a small enough tornado, we may never know if it touched down or not.”

The National Weather Service continues to work with local officials to survey areas that may have experienced other brief tornadoes, according to Friday’s report.

The report on the tornado was based on a survey of damage Thursday by NWS meteorologist Dave Nadler, a severe weather coordinator, in conjunction with the Macon-Bibb County Emergency Management Agency Director Spencer Hawkins.

Bibb County experienced mostly downed trees and resulting power outages, Hawkins said.

In all, downed trees closed 28 roads, said Chris Floore, Macon-Bibb County spokesman. All but seven were cleared by 10 p.m. Wednesday.

Those remaining were wrapped in power lines and power crews had to wait until daylight to unwrap the lines before public works could clear debris for the roads to reopen, Floore said. The last to clear Thursday afternoon was on Marjorie Place where a tree had landed on a house and taken out power lines.

Additionally, the storm downed trees on Interstate-475 near Hartley Bridge Road exit and on Interstate-16 near Mile Marker 8, Floore said.

The suddenness of the tornado serves as a good reminder for folks to sign up for EMA’s free mass notification system, the MBCAlert, if they haven’t already, both Floore and Hawkins noted.

The alert can be sent to an email, as a text message and as phone call to a cellphone and home phone, and residents who don’t live in Bibb County are welcome to sign up as well.

Both stressed the need to have multiple ways to hear of an emergency alert from the news, social media, MBCAlert, and a weather radio.

“If you’re in your home and watching TV, unless a siren is next door to your home, there’s a high chance you’re not going to hear it, especially if it’s raining, and there’s wind, thunder, lightning ... An MBCAlert will tell you what the threat is and tell you what to do,” Hawkins said.

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