Alabama Tornado Outbreak Lightning Analysis

  • Mar 04, 2019

This Alabama tornado outbreak lightning and Dangerous Thunderstorm Alert (DTA) analysis is courtesy of James Aman, Steve Prinzivalli, and the rest of the Meteorological Operations Team who were able to pinpoint specifics on this deadly event.

Updated on April 24, 2019

Alabama Tornado Outbreak

It looks like a war zone in Lee County, Alabama right now thanks to a powerful tornado outbreak on Sunday, March 3, 2019. Most of the damage and destruction is focused in an area along Alabama Highway 51 in Beauregard. This area is about a half-mile wide.

The outbreak took the lives of 23 people and injured at least 100 others. Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said at an afternoon news conference that three children, ages 6, 9, and 10 were among the dead in Sunday’s tornado.

It looks almost as like someone took a giant knife and just scraped the ground. There are slabs where homes formerly stood. Whole forested areas, trees are just snapped and lying on the ground.

The quote above is from Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones.

Tornado Numbers and Strength

Over the course of 6 hours, a total of 41 tornadoes touched down across portions of Alabama.

The strongest of these was an EF4 tornado that devastated rural neighborhoods from Beauregard, Alabama, to  Talbotton, Georgia.

The next strongest tornado happened in Leon County, Florida. This EF3 tornado destroyed residences to the east of Tallahassee.

Seven of the tornadoes were EF2 strength with winds somewhere between 111-135 mph.

A large number of EF0 and EF1 tornadoes also touched down. 21 EF1 tornadoes and 11 EF0 tornadoes, to be exact. EF1 tornadoes have wind speeds between 86-110 mph and cause moderate damage. EF0 tornadoes have wind speeds between 65-85 mph and cause light damage.

Our Analysis

From 19:00 – 22:00 UTC (1 pm – 4 pm local time) on Sunday, Earth Networks Total Lightning Network (ENTLN) generated several Dangerous Thunderstorm Alerts (DTAs). The tornado hit somewhere between 20:00 and 20:29 UTC (2 and 2:30 pm CST).

We detected a prolific amount of total lightning with this event. Our network detected 12,083 pulses over this three-hour time frame in a 20-mile radius around Beauregard, AL. You can see these lightning strikes below. The magenta icons indicate in-cloud lightning pulses. The yellow icons indicate cloud-to-ground lightning pulses.

There were numerous Earth Networks cell tracks and DTAs issued throughout the region during this tornado outbreak. The cell tracks below range in colors based on lightning flash rate. The warmer colors (oranges, reds, and purples) denote the highest flash rates.

The DTAs are depicted in the purple polygons with a duration of 45 minutes. The NWS Alerts include Severe Thunderstorm Warnings (yellow polygons) and Tornado Warnings (red polygons). All of these alerts are available to view in our weather visualization software, Sferic Maps.

Within the above storm tracks, there were numerous reports of severe weather, including tornadoes, large hail, and damaging winds throughout the Gulf Coast.

You can learn more about our Total Lightning Network and Dangerous Thunderstorm Alerts by clicking the button below.

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Alabama Tornado Outbreak Timeline

Here’s a timeline of the warnings from Earth Networks and the National Weather Service (NWS) as the severe weather moved through Lee County.

19:19 UTC (1:19 pm CST) NWS issues a Tornado Warning for Macon County, AL until 20:15 UTC (2:15 pm CST); no DTA issued as the storm’s flash rate is too low.

19:47 UTC (1:47 pm CST) ENTLN begins tracking a small but rapidly intensifying storm in Macon County. This is northeast of Tuskegee, AL. It has a flash rate of 4.3/min.

19:52 UTC (1:52 pm CST) ENTLN continues tracking this intense storm in eastern Macon County with a flash rate of 21/min.

19:55 UTC (1:55 pm CST) The lightning cell in eastern Macon County quickly strengthens to a flash rate 34/min. propagating east-northeast into Lee County.

19:58 UTC (1:58 pm CST) NWS issues a Tornado Warning for Lee County, effective until 2:45 p.m. CST. ENTLN issues an automated DTA at this same time for a region encompassing Beauregard, valid until 2:43 pm EDT

20:05 UTC (2:05 pm CST) ENTLN issues a second DTA for a region father southwest, including Montgomery, Macon, and Lee Counties, valid until 20:50 UTC (2:50 pm CST)

20:26 UTC (2:26 pm CST) ENTLN issues a third DTA for a large multi-county region, including Montgomery, Macon, and Lee Counties, valid until 21:11 UTC (3:11 pm CST)

20:38 UTC (2:38 pm CST): NWS issues a new Tornado Warning for Lee County, including Beauregard, valid until 21:30 UTC (3:30 pm CST)

Total Lightning Network Performance

Our Dangerous Thunderstorm Alerts are powered by our total lightning network. The Earth Networks Total Lightning Network performed well during this event. We detected multiple flash-rate storms and issued three DTAs for the area encompassing Beauregard, AL.

We issued the first DTA at 19:58 UTC, providing around 10-12 minutes of lead time for the tornado storm. This matched what the National Weather Service provided for the event.

Official Storm Survey & Media Coverage 

The official storm survey is still underway, but initial estimates show EF-4 intensity. This estimates winds at 170 mph.

People are sharing their pictures, thoughts, and prayers using #BeauregardStrong.

Pictures and videos show just how massive, destructive, and terrifying this tornado was.

Our thoughts are, of course, with the Beauregard community and the Lee County community at large.

Tornado Safety

Generally tornado season is considered between March and June; However, this event shows that  deadly tornado outbreaks can happen at any time.

Protecting yourself, your family, and your business from tornadoes starts with being prepared. Some key warning signs a tornado may develop include:

  • Dark, green skies
  • High frequencies on in-cloud lightning
  • Calm after a thunderstorm
  • Funnel-shaped cloud
  • Continuous rumble
  • Falling debris


You can learn more about these signs on our blog post.

Tornado Outbreak Forecast

During our recent 2019 Spring Outlook Webinar, our Chief Meteorologist Mark Hoekzema let attendees know that although there will be fewer tornadoes than normal this spring, there will be more tornado outbreaks.

A tornado outbreak is the occurrence of multiple tornadoes from the same synoptic scale weather system. The number of tornadoes to require qualifying an outbreak typically are at least six to ten.

You can learn more about the tornado outlook this spring and the rest of this spring’s anticipated weather events by clicking the button below.
Watch the Outlook