UPDATE: NWS confirms Thursday’s tornado was EF-3, 200-yards wide

The National Weather Service has confirmed preliminary data that estimated Thursday’s deadly tornado in Washington County to be an EF-3 with 150 mph winds.

Meteorologists with the NWS toured the affected sites Friday morning to conduct a damage survey and determined the tornado’s path was 200 yards wide and spanned about 12.15 miles across Washington and Jackson counties, mostly within the Alford and Cottondale communities.

Drone video footage from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office shows the path of the storm, which killed two and injured two others.

According to a statement from the NWS, the tornado began as an EF-1, crossing Orange Hill Road and continuing on to Gilbert’s Mill Road, where it damaged a manufactured home and shifted it on its foundation, as well as destroyed a barn near Stewart Road. The statement went on to say that snapped and uprooted trees were observed all along Gilbert’s Mill Road, and further northeast, a manufactured home sustained significant damage, and several outbuildings were destroyed. A camper and a greenhouse were also destroyed here, consistent with EF-1 damage.

Officials say the tornado strengthened as it continued northeastward along Gilbert’s Mill Road before completely destroying and sweeping away an anchored doublewide manufactured home and a newer, anchored single wide home. The double wide home was the site of the two fatalities, and one person in the single wide was injured when he was thrown into the tree line, grasping his mattress.

“Several projectiles were driven into the ground at this location,” stated NWS officials. “A large boat was also thrown from its trailer and overturned. Damage at this location was consistent with strong EF-2 winds.”

The report states the tornado continued to strengthen as it moved across Jewel Road and at that location, a well-built brick home was partially destroyed and “likely was sideswiped by the tornado.” The end of the home that was hit sustained major collapse of roof and exterior brick walls, as well as a generator ripped from its anchoring and thrown across a field. The other end of the home was less severely damaged but still suffered major roof loss. A car in the driveway was pushed off of the driveway, and an attached carport was destroyed.

Across the street, a wood frame home with block foundation was completely destroyed and swept from the foundation, leaving only some cinder blocks and a floor joist.

The debris from the house was thrown into a pole barn which was also destroyed. An injury occurred at this site when the home occupant ran to the barn and dove under his pickup truck. He was later transported to a Bay County hospital and reportedly suffered a broken back among his injuries. Officials say the damage to this home and the brick home are consistent with EF-3 damage and maximum sustained winds of 150 mph. 

Data gathered Friday showed the tornado weakened some as it moved northeast, inflicting roof damage to a home and damage to out buildings along Archie Sapp Road. On Syfrett Road, several sheds and outbuildings were destroyed, a single wide manufactured home was flipped onto its side, and a brick home sustained major roof damage. Officials say the damage along Archie Sapp Road and Syfrett Road are consistent with EF-1 damage.

The tornado snapped a couple of tree trunks along Dilmore Road before lifting just south of Interstate 10 near Standland Road.

Emergency Management Director Lynn Abel states families that experienced major damage to their homes but did not receive assistance from the Red Cross on Thursday can still receive assistance by calling 850-763-6587.