(Updated) Strong storms, tornadoes cause damage across Cullman County

An EF-0 tornado blew down the fountain and severely damaged a sidewalk awning at Holly Pond High School. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

Updated 1-13-20 1:52 p.m.

CULLMAN COUNTY, Ala. – A line of strong storms powered through Alabama, including Cullman County, Saturday, bringing three confirmed tornadoes and powerful winds that caused damage at numerous locations throughout the area. The National Weather Service (NWS) on Sunday confirmed an EF-1 tornado in Joppa, an EF-0 tornado in Holly Pond and an EF-2 tornado in Union Grove in Marshall County.

Trees and power lines came down, causing localized power outages and blocking or hindering traffic on Alabama Highway 91 near the Walter community, and along Section Line Road in Hanceville. From Cullman’s southeast side, downed trees, trees on houses and structural damage were reported on County Roads 700 (Bolte Road), 702, 703 (Welti Road approaching Cullman), 705, 706, 711, 712 and others.

As the line of storms entered Cullman County around lunchtime, NWS radar showed images indicating tornadoes could be forming near Good Hope and South Vinemont.

Hanceville Mayor Kenneth Nail, who was out of town Saturday, shared on social media, “Well I have just spoke with our Public Works director Rusty Fields and police chief Bob Long and they have reported to me that there is very little damage in Hanceville a few trees down and (one) power line down on Section Line Road.”

In southeast Cullman County, County Road 747 was blocked by a falling tree.

Other roads reported by readers to The Tribune as blocked or obstructed included Highway 69 near Bremen, Cupp Road (Good Hope) and County Roads 793 (near Holly Pond), 946 (Logan), 1224 (Vinemont), 1238 (north of West Point), 1682 (Holly Pond), 1725 (southeast of Baileyton) and 1727 (Holly Pond).

Hardest hit seems to have been the northeast portion of the county, including Holly Pond, Brooklyn, Baileyton and Joppa. A fallen tree blocked Summit Road near the Baileyton Good Time Dragstrip, and the area from Joppa to Arab and Union Grove in Marshall County saw numerous downed trees and several instances of significant structural damage including trees on houses, peeled or collapsed roofs and awnings and broken utility poles. One family was displaced in Joppa, but was with other family Saturday night. The Red Cross was contacted to help that family, and to survey other possible needs around the county.

The NWS said of the tornado in Joppa: “Numerous trees were snapped and uprooted as the tornado moved along Alabama Highway 69, moving from Joppa to the Hog Jaw community. The tornado caused damage to structures in this location, with numerous trees down on or beside houses in this community. EF-1 tornado damage was officially found in the city of Joppa, with wind speeds of 100 mph. Trees were snapped and uprooted along Highway 69, causing minor structural damage. The tornado continued rapidly moving north east, ending in Hog Jaw at a farm across from the Westside veterinary Hospital on Alabama Highway 69. Little to no damage was noted beyond this point to the northeast, aside from tin that was strewn from the barn that it last came in contact with across from the veterinary hospital. Witnesses in the city of Joppa reported a rain wrapped tornado along the tornado`s path, noting that damage ended almost as quickly as the heavy rain began and ended.”

A tornado caused damage in a line from Holly Pond to Brooklyn. From Lick Creek Road on Holly Pond’s southwestern side, wind blew down trees and damaged power lines, peeled sheet metal roofing from the abandoned Waterbrook Restaurant building and threw it into trees and around the base of a cell phone tower behind the building (The roofing was being removed for salvage and stacked on pallets in the parking lot; that metal was blown away as well, leaving empty pallets on the ground.), and caused extensive damage at Holly Pond High School, peeling up a sidewalk awning, collapsing part of the school’s greenhouse and breaking windows out of four school buses in the west parking lot. To the west of the school two flag poles in front of the Guy Hunt Library were broken, while to the east the Pure gas station and Middle of Nowhere antique shop suffered minor roof damage. Farther east out U.S. Highway 278, a wall collapsed at Bread of Life Church and a utility pole was snapped off at the ground next to the church.

The NWS said of the Holly Pond tornado: “A tornado touched down in the Holly Pond community near the center of town. The tornado caused minimal tree and roof damage as it quickly moved through the city. Minor roof damage was caused to the old Waterbrook restaurant, also blowing off siding at this location, and wrapping it around a cell phone tower northeast of the restaurant. From there, the tornado skipped northeast, causing minimal roof damage to the southwest corner of Holly Pond High School, where less than 20% of the roof was damaged, and portions of the awning were also damaged. As a result of the survey teams findings, EF-0 tornado damage was determined at this location in Holly Pond, with damage associated with 80 mph winds. No additional damage was found northeast of this location.”

Holly Pond Mayor Bill Oliver, whose own home suffered minor damage, was relieved that no one was injured, telling The Tribune, “As bad as it was, it could have been worse.”

Utility crews were at work minutes after the storm passed. Witnesses in Holly Pond reported that utility trucks were already in the area, having staged ahead of the storm to make a quick response. 

No injuries or fatalities were reported in Cullman County.

More damage was reported in Union Grove in Marshall County.

Here’s what the NWS had to say: “The tornado initially touchdown just south west of Brindlee Mountain Primary School. At this location, the school gymnasium, 10 classrooms, and the cafeteria were destroyed. Numerous beams in the roof of the gym were also twisted and bent, and large bolts used to attach it to the foundation were ripped from the structure. EF-2 tornado damage was determined at this location, with wind speeds 120 mph. In addition to damage to the school, several trees were snapped or uprooted at this location near the ballfield. A set of bleachers was hurled over 150 yards from one side of the school to the other. Several dumpsters were displaced as well, along with three or four power poles snapped at their bases. This led to additional damage at the school property when the poles fell on the school awning and roof. Little to no additional tornado damage was noted to the northeast of the school, aside from roofing materials strewn from the damage at the primary school itself. The tornado ended as it crossed Union Grove Road west of the Union Grove Fire Station.”

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W.C. Mann