Tornado hits Jefferson County

Ashley Hunter
ECB Publishing, Inc.

Florida is no newcomer to storms.
In recent months alone, the “850” North Florida area dealt with a hurricane that brought countless stories of destruction, loss of homes and jobs, and devastated forests and farms.
Weekend thunderstorms, overnight downpours and seasonal lightning shows are all part of the authentic Florida-living experience.
But during a weekend bout of rain, wind and lightning, Jefferson County was on the receiving end of a storm that will be remembered by some of Jefferson County's residents for years to come.
On Sunday, March 3, around 8 p.m., a line of severe weather, bringing thunder, lightning and rain, traveled over the Jefferson County area.
The storm system had already sprouted a devastating tornado in Cairo, GA, and would end up producing over 30 smaller, but still deadly, tornados throughout the Florida, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina area.
At around 8:15 p.m., a tornado touched down on the east portion of Leon County, near the Baum Road area.
From there, the tornado traveled with the storm over the Jefferson/Leon County line, and ended up making contact with the neighborhood of Heritage Hills, west of Gamble Road and north of Lloyd.
The tornado would make a second touch down in the area of Willie Road, on the east side of Gamble Road.
The National Weather Service survey team confirmed, due to the extensive damage and wind speeds left behind by the whirling cyclone, that the tornado had been an EF-3 on the Fujita Scale (F-Scale).
A EF-3 tornado on the F-Scale is marked by a storm that produces 158-160 mile per hour winds and can result in severe damage to homes and property.
The highest category for a tornado is a EF-5 storm, which is 261-318 winds and incredible damage.
Despite the fact that the tornado encroached near homes and a local business in the area, Jefferson County Sheriff Mac McNeill said that the damage to the county was “minimal.”
“It missed the houses, we were very blessed,” said Sheriff McNeill.
In Leon County, the same tornado resulted in damage to at least 10 homes and the injuries of two people.
Jefferson County was respectively lucky, as no injuries have been reported and Sheriff McNeill says that the damage to the homes that laid near the pathway of the tornado was fairly minor and included some damage to roofing and porches.
But very easily, the storm could have exacted a greater toll from Jefferson County.
“It if had hit a home, it would have been destroyed,” said Sheriff McNeill. “We were very blessed that no homes were destroyed. We were blessed that stayed in wooded areas.”
Despite the strength of the tornado-producing storm, Sheriff McNeill also states that no roads were reported to the Jefferson County Emergency Management as blocked, with the exception of one road in the Heritage Hills neighborhood.
“But citizens got right to it and cleared that one before we even got there,” said Sheriff McNeill.
With the storm and its tornado now behind Jefferson County, Sheriff McNeill is reminding residents of the county to look towards to sign up for Nixle.
Through Nixle, local emergency management officials can send out up-to-date safety warnings and information specific to the area during storms and other dangerous weather events.
“It is a great system,” said Sheriff McNeill. “It allows us to keep you informed of events in the county.”
Signing up for Nixle is simple, free, and citizens only need a phone capable of receiving text alerts to sign up.
Jefferson County Sheriff's Office alerts can also be viewed on Nixle by visiting the website and searching for alerts in the 32344 zip-code area.
These alerts often work alongside or ahead of alerts from the National Weather Service.
“We can get information to you, ahead of time,” adds Sheriff McNeill.
To sign up for Nixle, visit their website at nixle.com.