A quick-moving storm ripped through South Georgia Friday, downing trees and power lines and damaging homes and businesses throughout Lowndes County.
The rough weather was caused by a strong cold front moving through the area, said Kelly Godsey, meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Tallahassee office.
Friday morning began with gray skies, but intermittent drops of rain around 8:45 a.m. turned into a full-blown storm for much of the county by 9:15 a.m. Strong winds uprooted trees, knocked limbs onto the ground and blew debris into the streets. Power lines on East Ann and Hightower streets were brought down by fallen trees, and power was lost in several areas around the county.
The most severe damage seems to have occurred in the southern part of Lowndes, especially along White Water and Loch Laurel roads.
“We have at least eight houses that have been damaged and one restaurant. Most of the damage is located in the southern end of the county,” said Paige Dukes, Lowndes County clerk. “We have approximately 200 trees that have gone down across the county and no injuries reported.”
Several roads were closed following the storm due to debris in the roadways. Southbound traffic on Interstate 75 came to a crawl for a time after a tree blocked traffic in the right-hand lane at mile marker eight.
At least two houses along Sportsman Cove Road sustained severe damage after winds tore the roofs off of the structures.
“We had just finished breakfast. My grandson was with me, and it was just the loudest roar. I knew it was a tornado,” said Carol Spell, whose roof was torn off her house.
Spell’s home was flooded with water, and she is just in the beginning stages of assessing the damage. A large tree was uprooted in her yard, and the roof of another home next to Spell’s was also torn off.
Godsey said what hit Lowndes County were likely straight-line winds instead of a tornado. Damage patterns indicate that
winds of 40-45 mph blowing from west to east were the culprit, instead of the rotational winds that accompany a twister.
A popular family restaurant on Sportsman Cove, The Fish Net, is closed today after two uprooted trees damaged the structure. A tree in the front of the building fell against the roof but did not breach it. Another tree in the back of the business fell on a back porch causing heavy damage and demolishing a walk-in freezer.
Owners Leb and Debbie Upchurch spent most of the day Friday assessing the damage and said that the storm could not have come at worse time for their business. The restaurant was about to enter its busiest time of year.
“I’m really worried about the employees who depend on us,” said Debbie Upchurch.
The restaurant’s dining room did not sustain any noticeable damage, but a large tree leaned against the structure Friday afternoon, and Debbie Upchurch does not expect crews to be able to get to work on her property until Monday.
While high winds hit Lowndes County, a tornado touched down briefly west of Tifton, Godsey said.
South Georgia should be clear of any storm activity until Sunday, when a front is expected to move through, bringing a 50 percent chance of rain, he said.
Times staff member Terry Richards contributed to this story.