NWS upgrades Tuesday's tornado to EF-2 while over Fort Pulaski

CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - The National Weather Service – Charleston has upgraded Tuesday's tornado in eastern Chatham County to a low-end EF-2 tornado.

The survey team from Charleston says the twister developed around 5:54 pm Tuesday, May 23 on the southwest end of Wilmington Island, GA. At this point, the tornado was rated EF-1 in strength with maximum winds of up to 100 to 110 miles per hour.

The tornado moved east along Biltmore Road before turning east-northeast along a portion of Walthour Road.

The Chatham County Emergency Management Agency reported that just over 30 homes sustained damage, ranging from minor shingle loss to major damage due to trees and large limbs hitting homes.

According to the NWS, one home surveyed along Walthour Road sustained direct structural damage from the tornado, with the roof to a sunroom being torn off.

Radar evidence, surveyed damage and witness video indicated the tornado strengthened to a low-end EF-2 as it approached Fort Pulaski.

The Enhanced Fujita Scale classifies tornadoes into the following categories:

  • EF-0: Wind speeds 65 to 85 mph
  • EF-1: Wind speeds 86 to 110 mph
  • EF-2: Wind speeds 111 to 135 mph
  • EF-3: Wind speeds 136 to 165 mph
  • EF-4: Wind speeds 166 to 200 mph
  • EF-5: Wind speeds greater than 200 mph

According to the NWS, the tornado moved over/near the visitor center on Ft. Pulaski and caused the concrete walls and roof structure to shift and buckle. A smaller building next to the visitor center sustained similar damage, along with many trees snapped close to the base of the tree. At least two vehicles in the parking lot were pushed and rolled over.

"With the flooding from that storm, our HVAC systems, our sewer system is off-line up here. So, we moved that operation entirely to the visitor center. So, with our interpretation and education staff primarily in the visitor center, and with the Eastern National operation in there, now we don't have anywhere for them to be," said Joel Cadoff, acting superintendent for the Fort Pulaski National Monument.

There were several staff members getting ready to leave as the storm came through, but they took cover and are alright.

Power crews are out here now working to fix lines and poles damaged by the storm. Once power is restored to the eastern part of the island, park officials say the septic system needs to be checked out. Right now, they're without bathrooms out here.

A lot of the park's infrastructure, including a ranger office, book store and visitor center, was heavily damaged. Without the visitor center and comfort station, the park can't function or have guests. Flooding from Hurricane Matthew forced the park service to move a bookstore and ranger office to the visitor center.

"When I got the call about this, it was interesting, but not common at all. As you can see, the path of the tornado, it could've been 50 yards to the left or right, and we wouldn't be here right now. It just so happens that it was the one-two punch of Hurricane Matthew and the tornado," National Park Service Incident Commander Shawn Nagle said.

Right now, there is no definitive timetable for when the park will open back up.

The tornado exited just north of the fort into the Atlantic Ocean at approximately 6:03 p.m. on Tuesday.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported a capsized 48-foot fishing vessel about a mile north-northeast of Tybee Island. The National Weather Service surmised that the boat was hit by the tornado after it moved north from Fort Pulaski.

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