published Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

Tornado season comes early for Chattanooga and Tennessee

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    Police authorities make their way up Short Tail Springs Road on Friday afternoon after a tornado struck in Harrison.
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The powerful, tornado-laden storms that swept through the region late last week were hardly a surprise. Local and national forecasters had warned for days that vicious weather was likely here and that significant damage was almost a certainty wherever the twisters touched down. They were correct on all counts.

Severe storms did ravage a widespread area and tornadoes did touch down in many locations. Resultant damage was extensive. Fortunately, no lives were lost here. Some injuries, most relatively minor, were reported. The toll could have been worse, but residents, the memory of last April's far more deadly string of twisters still fresh, heeded warnings and sought shelter as storms approached. That's a hard-earned lesson that will bring benefits time and time again in the future.

Private and public property loss here is extensive, and probably will total millions of dollars when authorities provide a definitive accounting. That will take time since clean-up efforts could take months in places where the tornadoes left few recognizable landmarks.

In Hamilton County, the Harrison and Ooltewah areas were hit by what the National Weather Service has confirmed was an EF3 tornado with winds up to 165 mph. Emergency management officials for Hamilton County said Monday that at least 100 homes were either completely destroyed or suffered major damage, and that at least another 200 were harmed in some way. Damage was reported, as well, in Bradley, Polk, Monroe, McMinn counties in Tennessee and in nearby Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina. Infrastructure across the area was clobbered, too.

Immediately after the storms, tens of thousands of customers in a 12-county area were without power or other utilities, and the Sequoyah Unit 2 nuclear plant in Soddy Daisy was operating at about 70 percent of capacity because of downed transmission lines. By Monday afternoon, power and other essential services had been restored to most homes and businesses, and TVA reported that several transmission lines had been repaired. Full restoration of services, though, is still days away.

The tornadoes here were part of what the weather service is calling an early and "enormous outbreak" of twisters that took 39 lives in the Ohio and Tennessee valleys. It was the second deadly string of twisters in the same region in less than a week. A similar system Wednesday spawned more than 20 tornadoes that killed 20 people in Tennessee, Illinois, Kansas and Missouri. No one can predict if last week's storms are a meteorological aberration -- or a harbinger of events to come.

Given that, area residents can only pay attention to weather forecasts, seek safety when necessary and hope and pray that loss of life and damage will be limited if more tornadoes do strike the area.

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