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Billy Letson, right, checks the storm damage to his property on Short Street in Trinity.
Daily photo by Gary Lloyd
Billy Letson, right, checks the storm damage to his property on Short Street in Trinity.

Storm packs
a punch

Trinity residents thought
damage caused by tornado

By Ronnie Thomas 340-2438

TRINITY — Trinity residents said Tuesday they thought they saw a tornado during the middle of a drought. As the storm passed through the community at about 11 a.m., it wasn't raining in Decatur.

Patrick Gatlin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Huntsville, said that according to Doppler radar, the storm did not appear to be strong enough to produce any damage as it moved into the Trinity area.

Questioning the radar

Billy and Sherry Letson, who live at the corner of Short Street and High Street in Pinecrest subdivision, know better.

"My husband was at McCollum's for lunch, and I stepped out front of Integrity Design (on Old Alabama 24), where I work, not far from the house," she said. "I saw it form. I first saw straight-line winds, and then it started rotating. I saw all the debris flying around. I guess it was our stuff."

She said the house withstood the wind, except for pushing in a wall on the back porch. The storm did not damage their motor home parked in the front driveway, but it spread havoc in the backyard.

The wind blew part of a tree through the back of the garage and sent two metal buildings flying. The tubing of the shed that covered Billy Letson's mint-condition 1957 Cadillac and a 1953 Buick Rivera pierced the roof of Pettey Machine Works Inc., about 150 yards away on North Seneca Drive, in two different spots. Billy Letson said there was heavy damage to the hood of his prized Cadillac.

Sherry Letson said the other building was a storage shed for the riding mower and other equipment.

"We don't know what happened to that shed," she said, looking at the damaged mower that ended up several feet from the shed's foundation.

The storm also took off the cover of the Letson's aboveground swimming pool and pushed in a wall. It also tore down privacy fences on both sides of the house and in the back.

"It lifted up the pole holding our 12 gourd birdhouses for our martins and tossed it about 70 feet to the ground," Billy Letson said. "There were a lot of babies in there. Not a bird came out until some guys put the pole back in the ground, then they started flying out."

Carl and Ruth Goss live nearby on North Seneca Drive.

"I was here by myself and started hearing hard rain," she said. "After that, the wind got really heavy. I grabbed a blanket and took off for the hall, just to be safe."

There was no damage to the Goss home, but the couple lost a couple of trees in their front yard.

"All those shingles in the yard came from another house," she said.

The storm blew down a huge tree across the road from the Goss residence, on property owned by Trinity Baptist Church, next to Trinity Fire Station No. 2.

Police Chief Chris McLemore said most of the damage was confined to an area of about one-quarter mile, between North Seneca Drive and Forest Hill Road. He said no one was injured.

"We've had more damage than the initial reports indicated to us from 911," said Eddie Hicks "They gave us an overview and not all of the specifics. I expected about three trees down, and we've had more than that."

Bill Pettey, owner of Pettey's Machine and Trinity's fire chief, said he was in the office when his son, Jeff, ran in from the back, saying, "There's a tornado over us."

Bill Pettey said they went out front to see that the storm "had just crossed North Seneca, going toward Old Trinity Road. There was no warning, no time to react. It was not a big tornado, and it was short-lived."

He said the tubing from the Letson's shed knocked two holes in his building and that rain came in.

"We put a tarp over that area," he said.

Angelina Kelton, who lives with her children, John, 6, and Hailey, 4, in a mobile home in a park on Tower Street, said the wind blew a storage shed in the front yard over the home, into the backyard. The wind also stripped siding from the home.

She said the storm ripped out the underpinning of a neighbor's mobile home.

"He is not at home," she said. "He had just completed that work."

Gatlin said the only reports of damage from the storm were in the Trinity area.

"After it moved through Trinity, the storm continued northeast toward Athens and began to fall apart," he said.

Gatlin said the weather bureau had reports of a funnel cloud, but that radar did not show any indication that there was one in the area.

"Based on preliminary analysis, this was straight-line winds or a downburst event," he said, "a lot of wind and heavy rain descending from the storm that impacts the surface. As it descends from the clouds, it can also have cloud pendants that descend with it below the base of the cloud. Sometimes these pendants may look similar to a funnel cloud. A final report on this matter is pending. Someone will drive out and survey the damage to verify if in fact it was straight-line winds."

As to why there was no warning, Mike Coyne, meteorologist in charge at Huntsville, said the radar information "we had at hand did not support us issuing a warning at the time. We got the report several minutes after the event."

Coyne continued, "It was a peculiar storm from the fact that it produced this kind of wind damage and wasn't even a thunderstorm at the time. There was no lightning with the storm."

Another meteorologist, Holly Allen, said rain began entering the state Tuesday at about 6 a.m. She said Pryor Field reported 0.3 of an inch and Brookhaven Middle School, 0.24 inches.

"Huntsville had 0.25 inches, and Cullman Airport and Vinemont had 0.22 inches," she said. "It looks like parts of central Limestone County and parts of Morgan County, particularly in the Hartselle area, probably saw more rainfall than that."

Allen said there are no reporting participation gauges in Trinity.

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