HUNTSVILLE — Multiple homes were damaged, some severely, by a tornado in the Norma and Straight Fork communities Thursday evening, but there were no immediate reports of injuries associated with the storm.
After several tornado warnings and unconfirmed reports of funnel clouds from Huntsville southward, the tornado touched down around 6 p.m. between Winona and Norma, with a path of damage that stretched into the Straight Fork community behind the baptist church off S.R. 63.
Scott County Sheriff Ronnie Phillips told the Independent Herald as darkness descended Thursday evening that his law enforcement officers and other rescue personnel had managed to reach all of the locations where storm damage had been reported, and all residents were accounted for with no injuries reported.
However, there was significant damage caused by the storm.
Above: A tornado in the Deer Lodge area as seen from U.S. 27 north of Sunbright. Kevin Acres of Oneida, an NWS-certified storm spotter, saw the wall cloud and realized that a tornado was about to spawn, and stopped to take the video.
“Probably the most damage, structure-wise, was off Straight Fork Road, where you turn off behind the church,” Sheriff Phillips said. “There were a lot of home damages on the back side of Straight Fork. In the Norma Road area there were a lot of trees uprooted and just a few homes damaged.”
One of the homes that was severely damaged was residence of Scott County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Tommy Silcox, Sheriff Phillips confirmed. Fortunately, Silcox and his family escaped uninjured.
Silcox, who also represents the 1st District on the Scott County Board of Education, rode out the storm in the crawl space beneath his home, Phillips said, after sending his wife to their son’s home nearby to shelter in the basement when the tornado warning was issued.
“His home is still standing, but there’s a lot of damage, and his carport is gone,” Phillips said. “His camper was turned over and his truck was blown about 200 ft. from his home.”
Phillips said the Red Cross has been contacted, but it was not immediately clear whether the organization will be setting up an aid station. Phillips said that there were no confirmations of anyone being displaced by the storm.
Fairview School was opened Thursday night as an emergency shelter for anyone who was displaced by the storm. School was canceled Friday for Fairview students.
Above: A wall cloud as seen from U.S. 27 at the top of New River Hill, looking north. The video was taken by Kevin Acres, a certified storm spotter. The storm cell was the first report of a funnel cloud in Scott County Thursday afternoon (near Firefly Industries in Helenwood). However, it is not believed to have actually produced a tornado.
The sheriff’s department is urging onlookers to stay away from the Norma and Straight Fork areas, as emergency personnel and utility workers complete their work in the area.
“We still have officers that are out assessing damage and checking on folks, and we need to let the road department get the roads clear and Plateau Electric start getting the power back on,” Phillips said.
Scott County Emergency Management Agency Director Wendy Walker said that she has been in touch with the National Weather Service’s Morristown weather forecast office, and they are planning to send a survey team to Scott County Friday morning. The storm surveyors will first confirm the tornado — which is a near certainty — and then determine the width of the storm, the strength of the storm and how long the tornado was on the ground, using the damages as their guide.
At Scott High, softball players who were practicing ahead of Saturday’s tournament in Wayne County, Ky., scrambled for shelter in the football facilities when the tornado warning was issued. Softball and basketball coach Jake Wright later tweeted, “To the people of Scott County we love you and are praying for you!!”
At Oneida Elementary School, players and coaches had gathered for a soccer match between Oneida and Scott High that was scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. The match had already been pushed back one hour in an effort to wait out the weather. But at around 6:30 p.m., a new tornado warning was issued as a severe thunderstorm moved into the area. While the storm did not produce a tornado, heavy rain and hail was produced. Players from both teams took shelter in the same locker room when the tornado warning was issued. The game was ultimately postponed until Monday.
Once confirmed, the tornado will be Scott County’s first since May 8, 2009. That last tornado 12 years ago was an EF-2 tornado that was on the ground for 4.5 miles. It also touched down in the Straight Fork area, and tree damage can still be seen from S.R. 63.
Prior to that, a pair of tornadoes touched down in Scott County on Nov. 10, 2002 — the same day as the fatal Mossy Grove tornado in Morgan County. Those storms, both of them F-1 tornadoes, were relatively small storms that resulted in minimal damage.
The last time a tornado in Scott County resulted in injuries was March 13, 1996, when an F-0 tornado briefly touched down in the Pine Hill community and injured one. There were nearly three dozen people injured in the April 3, 1974 tornadoes, and 13 people were injured in a tornado that touched down in Huntsville on March 21, 1932.
To the people of Scott County we love you and are praying for you!!
— Jake Wright (@coachwrightSHS) April 8, 2021
While the Norma and Straight Fork storm is almost certain to be confirmed as a tornado — doppler radar gave strong indication that a tornado was ongoing as the storm progressed through the area, and several residents reported seeing a funnel cloud — there were various other reports of suspected funnel clouds in Scott County earlier in the evening. The first was a reported funnel cloud near Firefly Industries on U.S. Hwy. 27 in Helenwood. Funnel clouds were also reported in the Nydeck Road area near Glenmary.
Many residents posted photos of ominous clouds on social media. Most of them were of wall clouds — a sudden lowering of cloud that is not a tornado but which can spawn a tornado — or scud clouds, which are low-hanging clouds that are often detached from the main storm clouds and take on an irregular, ragged shape that can closely resemble funnel clouds. While scud clouds can be frightening, they’re caused by gusts of wind from the thunderstorm and are not actual funnel clouds, and are considered relatively harmless.
However, all of the storm cells that passed through Scott County showed signs of rotation, and the National Weather Service issued multiple tornado warnings, an indication that a tornado could develop at any time without warning. Initial appearances, though, were that the Norma-Straight Fork storm might have been the only tornado touchdown that occurred. Those areas were also the only areas where significant damage was reported.
Walker said she was not aware of any damage areas that will be surveyed by the National Weather Service besides the Straight Fork and Norma areas.
Above: Amber Norman captured this video of a wall cloud in the Glenmary area as a tornadic storm cell passed through on Thursday evening. Norman said there was minimal wind and hail damage caused by the storm, which went on to produce a tornado in Straight Fork.