A look back at the March 3, 2019 tornado outbreak

The violent EF-4 Lee County tornado killed 23 and injured 90 others
Published: Mar. 3, 2022 at 11:47 AM CST|Updated: Mar. 3, 2022 at 2:58 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - March 3, 2019 will forever be one of Alabama’s darkest weather days. Multiple tornadoes touched down across the state, including the violent EF-4 that ravaged southern Lee County before moving into Georgia.

Alabama wasn’t the only state impacted by severe weather that day. 41 tornadoes touched down across Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, with a dozen of them hitting Alabama. Only the Beauregard-Smiths Station tornado was deadly; it’s responsible for claiming the lives of 23 people and injuring 90 others.

Path of EF-4 tornado that moved across Lee County on March 3, 2019.
Path of EF-4 tornado that moved across Lee County on March 3, 2019.(NWS Birmingham)

It was the worst tornado to hit Lee County since 1875 and the deadliest tornado to hit the U.S. since the 2013 Moore, Oklahoma EF-5 tornado.

Maximum wind speeds reached 170mph in Lee County, which is where the tornado was at its strongest along its nearly 69-mile path. The tornado reached a peak width of 1,600 yards, or 16 football fields.

On radar it had “the look” of a very bad situation. The supercell thunderstorm had everything going for it, and the environment it was in was highly supportive of not only tornadoes, but strong to possibly violent tornadoes. Unfortunately that came to fruition with this particular storm.

The look on radar of the March 3, 2019 Lee County tornado was textbook.
The look on radar of the March 3, 2019 Lee County tornado was textbook.(NWS Birmingham)

The damage done in Beauregard, Smiths Station, everywhere between, and then in Georgia was significant. In many instances it was unfathomable to see. The lives of so many were forever changed in just a matter of minutes.

Below are a few snippets from the official National Weather Service write-up:

“The tornado reached its peak intensity just south of the intersection of Lee County Road 36 and Lee County Road 39 where it rolled a manufactured home and emptied its contents nearby on the northern side of the track while additional damage toward the southern portion of the track included the complete destruction of a house with all debris tossed a short distance from the foundation.”

Significant damage from EF-4 tornado on March 3, 2019.
Significant damage from EF-4 tornado on March 3, 2019.(NWS Birmingham)

“The tornado bent the frame of a car around the remnant of a large tree whose upper portion had broken off and totaled three vehicles by severe impacts into the bases of two remaining tree stubs. Further east on the other side of the small lake, a well-anchored and constructed home was leveled with debris removed from the foundation and anchored bolt screws remaining intact.”

“Toward the northern edge of the tornado, the destruction of two double-wide and a single-wide manufactured home was surveyed. This was the peak intensity of the tornado due to the combination of damage to the two houses along with extensive severe tree damage including trees snapped at their bases and large trees with expansive root systems fallen along with some sporadic evidence of ground rowing.”

Substantial damage caused by violent EF-4 tornado from March 3, 2019.
Substantial damage caused by violent EF-4 tornado from March 3, 2019.(NWS Birmingham)

“The tornado began to decrease in intensity as it continued east roughly paralleling Lee County Road 39 where two manufactured homes were destroyed with most debris deposited away from the original location and both of the metal frames of the mobile homes could not be located. Another manufactured home was destroyed with its contents deposited in a swath from the site into the remains of a nearby tree line. A car was found in an overturned position against a hardy tree stripped of most limbs with a mattress from a bed wrapped around the mid portion of the tree.”

“Severe tree destruction continued into this area with trees snapped at their bases and uprooted. To the north of Lee County Road 39 significant debris were deposited in the wooded area where the tornado performed significant timber damage and toppled at least one high-tension power line tower visible in the near distance.”

Part of the path of the March 3, 2019 Lee County tornado.
Part of the path of the March 3, 2019 Lee County tornado.(NWS Birmingham)

Three of the other tornadoes to hit Alabama that day were considered “strong” on the Enhanced Fujita Sale. Two EF-2 tornadoes hit Barbour County and another touched down in Macon County before lifting in southern Lee County. The EF-2 that hit Lee County actually paralleled the earlier EF-4 just to the south. That tornado injured one person, had a maximum wind speed of 115mph, was upwards of 1,300 yards wide, and was on the ground for more than 29 miles.

The two Barbour County tornadoes touched down in the northern part of the county. The first was on the ground for about seven miles and had a peak wind speed of 115mph. The second touched down north of Eufaula, crossed U.S. 431 and then entered Georgia. This tornado had a maximum wind speed of 130mph and a peak width of 600 yards. It’s this tornado that did extensive damage at Weedon Field Airport complex.

Here’s a snippet from the NWS about this tornado:

“Numerous trees around the complex were snapped and uprooted. One home suffered damage, several metal structure buildings were completely destroyed, and several airplanes were damaged or destroyed. The tornado moved eastward and weakened slightly after crossing US Highway 431.”

For more on the tornadoes that hit Central Alabama, click this link.

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