February 6, 2023

Skye and other local reporters investigate tornado damage in Griffin, Georgia.

On January 12, three EF-3 tornadoes swept through the town of Griffin, Georgia, where I live. One of the tornadoes went right over my house. The rumble was intense as the winds pushed against the house. Trees were uprooted and debris flew through the air. Rain and hail fell in torrents.

Students in the Griffin-Spalding school system were forced to take shelter on the spot. Students huddled together for hours, according to Nicole Dowling, a math teacher at Kennedy Road Middle School. “We have all been waiting for safe passage,” she said. “Fallen trees blocked every direction on Kennedy Road.”

Most students safely got home by 11 p.m., but about two dozen had to stay until the early hours of January 13.

“I’ll never forget that sound,” Dowling said. She heard a hiss and a roar as she waited in a classroom with other teachers. “All of a sudden,” she added, “we were hiding under desks. We were all one and listened intently until we felt the storm moving away.”

Mariyah Dallas, a sixth grader, said she and her family were scared. “It was very scary because the power had been out for more than a day,” she said. “We had to clear a lot of trees from the yard.”

An overhead image of the damage to the Hobby Lobby captured by Rick Blackshear’s drone.

“METAL AND DIRT EVERYWHERE”

The tornadoes damaged nearly 2,000 residential and commercial properties in Griffin. Dowling described the aftermath. “Massive trees that were broken in half and thrown around,” she said. “Electrical cables hang like loose noodles. Metal and rubble everywhere.”

The power went out in the city with more than 23,000 inhabitants. As I surveyed the damage, I saw that a gas station overhang had collapsed and a car had been crushed under it. The roof of the Hobby Lobby near the mall had collapsed.

Jerome Barkley, the school’s caretaker, described the damage he saw. “Houses are destroyed all over the city and telephone poles are just leaning across the street,” he said.

Rick Blackshear, a downtown Griffin photographer, used a drone to capture the damage. “It’s going to have a big impact for months and possibly years,” he said. “The city doesn’t have enough resources for that [repair] What happened.”

Scientists assume that climate change is responsible for the increasing number of extreme weather events worldwide. After National Geographic, there is no evidence that tornadoes occur more frequently. However, a 2019 study suggests that climate change could be a factor contributing to Tornado Alley’s shift and causing it to move eastward. As a result, densely populated areas east of the Mississippi River are experiencing more tornadoes than in the past.

Skye speaks to local news reporters about the damage she witnessed.

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