A storm assessment team from the National Weather Service was in Hamilton County on Tuesday to view damage from Monday's storm. What the experts find will determine whether it was a tornado or something else - a microburst, a gustnado or straight-line winds - that wreaked havoc here. Whatever the official conclusion, significant numbers of residents here are far more concerned with cleaning up damage and restoring a semblance of normalcy to their lives than in finding out precisely what hit the region Monday. Whatever it was, they know it was deadly, frightening and violent.
At least two deaths - one in Franklin County and one in Polk County - were attributed to the storm. There were few reports of injuries, but property and infrastructure damage was extensive. More than 40,000 EPB customers were without power at the height of the outage following the storm,. By midafternoon Tuesday, that number had been reduced to 7,500. EPB crews, joined by hundreds of workers from out of town, will work 24-hour shifts until power is completely restored. That will take time.
Indeed, the destruction of EPB lines, transformers and other equipment verged on the historic. Though assessments weren't complete Tuesday, the EPB spokesman said the damage was among the worst in the last 30 years and that it probably would rank in the top five of storm-related damage in the utility's history.
Municipal workers across the area worked through the night into Tuesday to restore traffic signals, to remove trees from roads and to clean up other storm-related debris. In some areas, like hard-hit Signal Mountain and Red Bank, it will take several more days or perhaps weeks before things can return to normal. Even so, the human toll could have been worse.
Residents of Hamilton County and nearby areas obviously heeded timely tornado warnings issued by the weather service. That was especially important given the speed - 60 mph - at which the storm was advancing to the east. "When the storm entered Marion County," said Paul Barys, chief meteorologist for WRCB, Channel 3, "a warning was issued for Hamilton County. When it entered Hamilton County, a warning was issued for Bradley. When the storm exited Hamilton and moved into Bradley County, the service issued a warning for Polk County."
The series of warnings served the region admirably, providing the opportunity for people to seek shelter in advance of the destructive winds and rains so heavy that some area residents reported that it was impossible for them to see the street from their homes.