National Weather Service confirms EF1 tornado in Joe Wheeler State Park

The park sustained millions in damage.

Posted: Dec 19, 2019 4:09 PM
Updated: Dec 20, 2019 9:30 AM

The National Weather Service confirms an EF1 tornado with 115 mph wind speeds in Joe Wheeler State Park on Monday.

State Park officials estimate it will take millions of dollars to fix the damage at the park.

The campgrounds at the park are closed indefinitely. Employees are cancelling all campground reservations, because the tornado caused thousands of trees to fall in the area.

District Superintendent over the park, Chad Davis, said their first stage of recovery is to hire a logging company to come clear all the downed trees.

"It's just devastating. It hurt me when I first saw it on the news," said Donna Harroway, who camps at the park regularly.

On Thursday, Harroway caught a glimpse of the damage.

"The beauty, I think, has been destroyed in certain parts of the area, and in my lifetime, it won't ever be back," said Harroway.

The National Weather Service survey team got a first look at the damage, too, calling it intense and widespread.

"I've been working here for more than 15 years, and I don't think I've ever seen so many trees damaged all at once, except for maybe one other time," said Brian Carcione with the National Weather Service.

Carcione said it takes 105 to 110 mph winds to knock pine trees down.

"One that we're considering is how much wind does it take to snap thousands of pine trees," said Carcione.

At least 13 buildings at the park have damage, too, with gaping holes in the roofs and trees toppled over them. Davis said it will cost millions to clean up and repair everything.

"It's never gonna be the same. The landscape has forever changed, but the campground will be rebuilt," said Davis.

Davis said it will take months to get the campgrounds cleared and reopened.

The marina and lodge have no damage and power is back on. Those areas are open to the public, but the day use beach area and campgrounds are closed off.

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