A line of severe storms passed through Franklin County on Monday but little damage was reported.
After a gloomy weekend, Monday morning dawned here with blustery winds, gray clouds and pea soup fog, then, around lunchtime, Mother Nature sent some seriously bad weather our way.
At one downtown eatery, customers moved away from windows as quarter sized hail pelted the dining room. At Papa Joes, staff evacuated the porch when a tornado warning was broadcast on Oyster Radio.
Tim Barry, a forecaster for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Authority (NOAA) said the first cyclonic activity was a water spout reported near “Thirteen Mile” at around 12:30 p.m. He said an eye witness account, corroborated by a radar signature, was phoned in to NOAA.
St. George Island residents reported seeing two waterspouts near the causeway at about the same time but Barry said there was no radar signature associated with that event. Pandora Schlitt said she was driving across the St. George Island Bridge between 1:30 and 2 p.m. when she saw something snake down from the clouds to the water to the east. “I guess that was a water spout,” she said. “I really don’t know what one looks like.”
At about 4 a.m. on Tuesday morning, cyclonic activity was observed on NOAA radar near the Apalachicola Regional Airport. Around the same time, numerous Apalachicola residents reported hearing the characteristic droning wind associated with a tornado. High winds are reported to have knocked down trees, damaged roofs and destroyed part of a fence in Highland Park.
Margot Biscotti said, “It woke me up at about four o’clock and I knew what it was, but it sounded far away. I thought, ‘this house has been here for over 100 years’ and I went back to sleep.”
Sustained winds of 43 miles an hour were reported with 77 mph gusts at the airport.
A small craft advisory and gale warning remained in effect for coastal waters through Wednesday.
A number of small power outages were reported from Apalachicola to Carrabelle during the storm and both the Apalachicola Bay Charter School and the Franklin County School were closed on Tuesday. There was no report of serious damage associated with the 18 hour barrage of wind and rain.
The airport measured over six inches of rain during the storm. Flash flood warnings were issued on Monday afternoon and evening. Several Water Street businesses reported flooding. At the courthouse, there was water damage to a third floor office on the southwest corner of the building. Courthouse spokesman Michael Moron said a contractor was called in immediately to address the problem and limit the damage.
Director of Administrative Services Alan Pierce said the leak resulted from and improperly sealed roof drain in the newly installed roof.
Pierce said, “When a properly sealed drain reaches capacity, the excess water shunts off the edge of the roof and down the side of the building. Because the drain was not sealed, the excess water entered the building around the drain.”
Pierce said He inspected the damage looking for a cause with representatives of All-South Contractors, who installed the roof but it was local plumber Franklin King who located the leak. He said the All-South field representatives did not dispute King’s findings and the planning office is waiting to hear from All-South.
The main courtroom was not damaged.
Even after the flashflood warnings expired, there was substantial standing water on Tuesday morning. At around noon, Duke and Margot Biscotti’s lot and four adjacent properties located near 16th Street and Avenue F were ankle deep in runoff.
Duke Biscotti and neighbor Mark Goodwin said the flooding is a constant problem since the city installed a pit for the new vacuum sewer system which blocked a drainage ditch. Goodwin said the situation improved some after city workers unblocked a culvert recently.
Although the threat of flashfloods is past, river flooding from Blountstown south continues to be a problem. On Tuesday morning the Apalachicola River was 16 feet above normal and Emergency Management Director Pam Brownell said more water would be released from Jim Woodruff Dam. At 12:30 a.m., her office released a voluntary evacuation notice for, “residents living along the Apalachicola River and campsites starting at the Hickory Landing on Owl Creek and continuing South along Hwy 65. The notice warns the evacuation could rapidly become mandatory as flood waters rise. Brownell said it was uncertain when or at what level the river would peak but the Apalachicola could crest at more than 25 feet above normal over the next three days. She said the road to Bloody Bluff boat ramp has been closed due to flooding since Thursday.
She said most residents of the affected area up CR 65 said they would not leave.
“I told them to get whatever they will need, if they plan to stay and to expect 25 feet,” she said.
Brownell said she has 300 sandbags stick piled at the Emergency Operations Center and had asked the road department to fill and deliver 1000 more to the County State Yard on Bluff Road in Apalachicola. The sandbags are available to those wishing to protect their property. Please take only what is needed.
NOAA has warned persons living along the Crooked and Ochlocknee Rivers to remain vigilant as well.