By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Storm was a twist of fate
Officials unsure why Gainesville gets so many bad storms
Placeholder Image

Robert Garcia said it's just evil luck that brought a tornado crashing onto Gainesville the morning of April 6, 1936.

Spring breeds strong storms, and this one happened to hit a populated area, the meteorologist with the National Weather Service said.

"Almost 100 people were killed between just two buildings ... that contributes to the higher mortality rate," Garcia said. "Whereas maybe had it been a less densely populated area there wouldn't have been as many people in one place."

But the tornado was abnormally strong, too, probably an F-4, Garcia said. The strongest storms are ranked as F-5s.
But the 1936 tornado, the fifth deadliest in U.S. history, was just one tornado that hit Hall County.

"There is no doubt that two of the 20 deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history occurred in Hall County," state climatologist David Stooksbury said. "And that gives us reason to pause and ask the question, is there something about that location that makes tornadoes more likely. And that is a very good question."

A summer storm in 1903 killed about 100. It's the 16th deadliest tornado in U.S. history. In 1998, a tornado killed 12 as it swept across rural North Hall. Countless others over the years touched down and ripped up pieces of homes and businesses but left their occupants scared but still standing.

According to data from the state climatologist office, Hall County has seen 14 to 17 tornadoes between 1950 and 1995, more than most areas of Georgia. But there are flaws with the data.

"If no one ever reported it to the weather service, as far as official weather records are concerned it did not occur," Stooksbury said. The result is tornado maps look somewhat like population maps.

But for those who live in the paths of these tornadoes, the storms hit with more frequency than is fair.

Stooksbury suspects there may be something about the mountain ranges in northern Hall that influences the number of tornadoes.

Jim St. John, a research scientist in the school of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech, and Scott Lawrimore, a senior meteorologist with The Weather Channel, suspected something similar.

As part of a graduate project in the late 1990s, the two studied the areas of Georgia that have more reported tornadoes.

"Our suspicion was just like as water cascades over rapids in a river and produces whirlpools that maybe that was providing eddies in the atmosphere that could be seeds for tornadoes," St. John said.

Lawrimore said the project looked at whether smooth areas contribute to tornado genesis or spinup, including the Dahlonega plateau that stretches from west central Georgia into north central Georgia in and above Forsyth County. But it was a weak correlation, he said. Of possible variables that could influence tornadoes, terrain is not a strong one.

Location, though, does play some role, he said. Instability is greater in Alabama, causing more tornadoes, and those systems next pass to north Georgia, weakening but not always weakening enough.

Data Garcia referenced, though, indicates Hall may be average in its tornado frequency. Each storm is separate and there is no known pattern, he said.

Weather patterns do show peak seasons for strong storms, though, he said.

Georgia's peak is spring, the same time the 1936 storm hit. When cool air mixes with warm, thick clouds can gather and begin to rotate. Sometimes tropical storms can spur tornadoes. And instability again in the fall brings another peak in activity.

For many in Gainesville, spring storms will always turn their stomach. If they didn't live through the tornado, they've heard its stories.

"It just takes one unfortunately," Garcia sad.