Heavy storms tore through Newton County Sunday, and a tornado reportedly touched down in the Rocky Plains area, but no injuries or major damage were reported, according to local emergency officials.
And while the county was spared damage Sunday, officials warn that tornadoes can appear without warning and urged residents to be prepared.
Tornadoes were reported in southwest Newton County around 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon in the Veal Road area off Ga. Highway 212 and the Barrington subdivision off Butler Bridge Road, but no significant damage to homes or other property was reported, said Jody Nolan, deputy director of Newton County’s Emergency Management Agency.
There also were reports of up to quarter-sized hail, but the storms only knocked down a few small tree limbs, said Nolan and Newton County Fire Chief Kevin O’Brien.
One citizen did report damage to a gazebo off Veal Road, according to a post on the Covington-Newton County 911 Center’s Facebook page.
There also was a tornado rotation reportedly moving over Covington in the West Street area, but a funnel cloud never touched the ground, Nolan said. Covington Assistant Fire Marshal Capt. Tony Smith said there was no damage to report.
The county was hit with tornado-like storms for the second time in nine days.
Parts of Mansfield received significant damage from a confirmed EF2-tornado (winds 111-135 mph)) April 20.
Nolan said tornadoes are generally confirmed after the fact by the National Weather Service, which bases the presence and severity of a tornado on the damage it leaves behind.
The rotating winds of a tornado cause damage patterns that are distinct from those left by simple, strong, straight-line winds and the swath of the damage also is a determining factor when ranking the severity of a tornado.
As has been the case in the past, several residents complained about not being able to hear the county’s tornado warning sirens.
The Covington-Newton County 911 Center recommended citizens buy their own NOAA Weather Radios as a precaution. On a post on its Facebook page, the 911 Center said the radios can be purchased from local stores Radio Shack and Walmart; such radios cost from $30 up to $100 or more.
“They are simple to set up and will provide you the quickest and most reliable alerts since they are controlled by the National Weather Service,” the 911 Center said. “A simple Weather Alert Radio should be your first line of defense; as with a smoke detector, a Weather Alert Radio is something that every home should have.”
The National Weather Service also is using technology to push the alerts directly to newer cell phones. Nolan said the Georgia Emergency Management Agency also has an iPhone and Android app for weather alerts; more details can be found at ready.ga.gov/mobileapp.
Nolan said waiting for sirens can be a mistake, since tornadoes can occur without warning, often before the county’s emergency alert sirens can be turned on.
“People need to be vigilant during storm season and pay attention to their surroundings. If there is a thunderstorm or other storm, a tornado could form — you may never receive the warning, so be ready,” Nolan said.
Georgia’s peak tornado season is March through May, but Nolan said tornadoes can appear in Georgia anytime if the temperature is right. Hail larger than a nickel can be a precursor to a tornado, Nolan said, but tornadoes don’t always bring hail.
Amber Pittman, editor of electronic media, contributed to this story.