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The Calhoun County Gazette of Calhoun County Alabama presents local news, sports, and features of interest about the area. It is dedicated to the people of Calhoun County and to others who would like to know more about us and the great opportunities for travel, fun, and business in our region.
 Feature Story                      

Tuesday January 6, 2009 at 5PM, some Oxford residents were
too close to some possible tornado action which barreled down the E Hamric portion of Hwy 78 just below Oxford High.  

The moral of this article: DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR TORNADO SHELTER IS IN OXFORD AND ANNISTON ALABAMA?

Oxford Tornado January 6 2009 
Norman Morrison 


This is the path the most severe winds took, which coincide with the radar images you see below. 

   First it must be noted that the National Weather Service maintains that the foul weather Oxford endured at 5PM, January 6, 2009 was straight line winds. GetCalhoun.com disagrees.
     Further note, it is ok to disagree with the NWS from time to time. After all, they were not appointed by a holy order, and offering other opinions does not rise to the level of blasphemy of, say, chewing tobacco in church.
     Whatever it was, the wind that tore through the area was unexpected. But it shouldn't have been. From lunch onwards, the setup could be viewed on television and computer radar. GetCalhoun.com had 3 different radars going all afternoon. Even so, we were caught by surprise, much as the man with the rope around his neck standing on the trap door. Even though he knows what's coming, there just isn't much he can do to prepare when the door drops. And so it was in Oxford. You think that you can get out of the way of bad weather, but the onset was so sudden, that in less than 5 seconds the winds went from light and variable to F0 speed. There wasn't enough time to run.
     In our area, it is good to know that the historical violent storm path seems to be right down I-20. Most often the storms peel off to go on and demolish West End in Anniston. Occasionally, they veer off on one end of Oxford or the other. April 3, 1974 one split the difference pulverizing a Winn Dixie store near Blue Pond, killing two in the process. In 1989 another case of "straight line winds" made a mess of the western portion of Oxford along the I-20 storm trolley track.

Popup a Weather Underground radar image...
2 Hours To T Time... 300K...animated Gif.
3PM January 6th. Weather incoming.
______________________________________

     This event was a little different. On first approach, with but radar evidence to work with, one would think straight line winds...but the damage on the ground suggests otherwise.

     Shortly after lunch, anecdotal evidence suggests that many in the damage path had developed an itch they couldn't scratch. Something just didn't feel right. It may have been the unseasonable temps, it reached 74 that day. The day was damp and breezy, winds around 11, but the warm air made the wind less noticeable. It rained a little around lunch. It had been cloudy and rainy for a long long week.
     The official weather station for the area is at the local airport, which is 1.5 miles from the epicenter of damage. The highest registered wind gust was 36mph, which occurred at the same time as the front blew through.
     Oxford is no stranger to weather fronts. Most often they come from the west bringing brief, rarely, violent weather. More often than not they are accompanied by weather warnings. The area was under a tornado watch as the line approached. (Yawn...another watch. The last 50 were busts...This one probably would be too. Big deal.)
     The line moved so slowly all afternoon, and the winds were on such a knife edge, that when it finally made it to Oxford, everything happened all at once. In about the time you had to decide whether to stand or run, the storm was on. You had just enough time to slam the door on the storm shelter. If you were standing outside, then you didn't have enough time to get inside. It was that quick.
    

It appears that the big action started between the Coca Cola plant and the Sonic Drive Inn, as there was damage reported on West 9th, and at one of the car lots just above the Sonic/Barry Street/Hwy 78 intersection.
 
     
The red blobs on this radar image are individual cells moving like a train up the line, while the line moves sideways. We think there is some mathematical equation that can explain this so that you will know which way you are getting smacked. The arrow points to the best of the blobs as it enters the Hamric Drive corridor.

If you have pictures, send them for possible inclusion here.
Comment? Send us a mail.


A study in catastrophic winds: The storm came down from the NW, while the red cells were moving up to the NE. However.... Where you see the wind direction arrow, the wind was coming from the SE. The line is not to scale, but illustrates accurately the direction of movement.  The arrows are correct.

 


Former Alignment Shop near Oxford High


Small park at the Quintard Mall Intersection

     One eye witness near Friendship told us that he saw rotation in the clouds. Another said that debris were flying as it approached the mid point below the high school. Another said a man near the football field was upended, being tossed onto his head with his feet in the air.
     The coming line was an odd sort of thing. Usually, as you watch one approach on radar, you will see the characteristic solid red in the leading edge. The Jan 6th storm line... This time distinct cells were training north. One of the largest, as the line arrived, between it's motion, and the motion of the line managed to stay glued to Hwy 78 between the Sonic Drive Inn and the little veterans park at the nursing home at the mall intersection.
The Sonic sustained some damage as did Oxford Lumber. Behind the Sonic some very old pecan trees were blown down. Continuing, a service station on the other side of the road had damage, an air conditioner was blown off a building adjacent to the Sizzlin and deposited in the parking lot, a former alignment shop was practically demolished below Oxford High, and across the road, a shop had a good bit of damage to the facade and roof.
     Just as quickly as the thing started, it ended by making match sticks out of an old stand of pine trees in the little park in front of the nursing home.
     One man who witnessed it first hand said that with all the debris and glass flying he had no idea why no one was injured. It is possible that straight winds could perform the capers reported, but it doesn't seem likely. More likely, it was an F0 tornado, and an odd one at that. One witness who lives across from the Coca Cola plant said she "heard the freight train," a sure audible sign of a twirler. What there was not, however, was one single drop of lightning or thunder. Extremely strange, tornado or not.
     Across the interstate, to the south, 1/4 mile from the principal storm path, an odd thing occurred. As illustrated in one of the photos, while the front was approaching from the northwest, the winds on the ground were from exactly 180 degrees out...from the southeast. The winds were rushing into the maw of the storm front. There is an explanation for this, but it is beyond the computing power at GetCalhoun.com.
     Two things at the end of the article. First, sometimes, you simply do not have time to get out of the way...even if you know it's coming. This was made very clear to GetCalhoun.com personally. Second, I sincerely hope this isn't a prevue of the Spring to come.
     What makes this an atypical event is that Oxford was pounced upon by a solid knife edge storm front with several impulses or storm cells training in a predictable and continuous way north of I-20. In the past history with tornadoes, the most common scenario is for a front to come through with a massive damaging cell or two with mega lightning, or even a lone super cell barreling down the I-20 corridor, careening northwest at some point.
     While it wasn't a typical storm, in the past, we have seen that early indications of violent weather sometimes foreshadow violent springs. This year, when the winter occurred in the fall, and the spring happened in the winter, we suspect that the spring will be...strange. We thank God that no one was injured in this flaky January nature event.
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