Snow, floods, twisters: Three deadly weather events from Middle Georgia’s past

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.

This week marks 11 years since the deadly Mother’s Day tornadoes ripped through Middle Georgia on May 11, 2008.

The National Weather Service eventually found evidence of up to 15 tornadoes in the area that day, including three in Laurens County where it claimed the lives of a married couple in their mobile home. The strongest tornado that spawned from the storm was an EF3 in Treutlen County.

Severe weather isn’t uncommon in Middle Georgia. Just this year, a line of strong thunderstorms produced some tornado activity in the area. That same line of storms produced a tornado that left more than two dozen dead in Beauregard, Alabama.

Here’s a look back at some of the biggest natural disasters that swept through communities in Middle Georgia over the last 50 years.

1. Flood of ‘94

In 1994, Tropical Storm Alberto stalled over Middle Georgia , dumping rain for three days. It came into the area on July 4 and moved into the Atlanta area before backtracking toward Macon.

The rainfall caused rivers and creeks to rise and eventually flood the area, including parts of Interstate 75. Thirty-one people across Georgia lost their lives as a result of the storm and two people died in Alabama.

Damage estimates for Georgia, Alabama and Florida were close to $1 billion.

Alberto caused the evacuation of over 40,000 people and closed 1,700 roads and 600 bridges in Georgia. Many locals still talk about the water crisis that left many without drinking water for up to three weeks.

2. Mother’s Day tornadoes of 2008

In the early morning hours of May 11, 2008, sirens rang out around Middle Georgia as an EF2 tornado touched down in Lizella. The twister had maximum winds of up to 130 mph, according to the National Weather Service, as it moved toward Lake Tobesofkee, eventually touching down in Macon.

It finally lifted near the Twiggs County line but not before leaving behind a path of destruction. The storm had a nearly 18-mile path and was almost as wide as a football field. An auto parts store was completely demolished in its path, and other stores or buildings suffered substantial damage, including Home Depot and what is now Middle Georgia State University.

The state insurance commissioner’s office estimated insured damages totaled at least $125 million. Gov. Sonny Perdue declared a state of emergency in multiple counties around the state due to the storm.

3. The Great Southeastern Snowstorm of ‘73

A rare snow storm in February, 1973 brought 16.5 inches of snow to the Macon area.

Snow is rare in the Macon area but from Feb. 9 to 11, 1973, a storm brought 16.5 inches to town. I-75 closed from Middle Georgia to near the Florida border with thousands of cars stranded on the highway, according to a report by the National Weather Service.

Around 1,000 people sought shelter in Forsyth as they were trying to get to Florida when the roads shut down. In Macon, every single road was shut down at the peak of the storm.

A curfew was instated and then-Mayor Ronnie Thompson declared a state of emergency. Traffic accidents due to the storm caused three fatalities in the state of Georgia.

The record snowfall was remembered by some of our readers on the 40th anniversary of the weather event in this article in 2013.