JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville got a good scare Thursday night, but didn't get a repeat of the ruinous tornado that struck the town almost exactly one year before.
Residents hunkered down for about an hour under a tornado warning as a line of severe storms marched across the county — but after the warning passed, life in town was back to normal.
Jacksonville and Jacksonville State University will commemorate a year of recovery from last spring’s tornado with nearly a week’s worth of events, such as panel discussions on safety and the psychological effects of the storm.
“We have reports around the county of trees down and wind damage,” said Myles Chamblee, a spokesman for the Calhoun County Emergency Management agency. “We're unsure at this point whether there was a tornado.”
Forecasters spent most of the day Thursday warning that a line of strong storms was crossing the state and urging people to keep an eye on the weather. Calhoun County had only a "marginal" chance of a tornado in early forecasts.
By 6 p.m., that had changed. A swirl of clouds on radar in St. Clair County seemed to forecasters like a possible tornado. As that storm crossed into Calhoun County, warning sirens sounded.
For people who survived the March 19, 2018, tornado, which damaged hundreds of buildings in Jacksonville, the scene was disturbingly familiar. The anniversary of that storm is less than a week away. The storm path forecasters described — Angel, Jacksonville, Nances Creek — sounded like the path of the 2018 storm.
There was one major difference.
"We didn't hear a train," said Cindy Jamerson, owner of Cuts and Curls, a hair salon near Jefferson's restaurant.
Jamerson and her customers took shelter during the storm warning, but the familiar tornado sound never came.
"The sky was greenish yellow," said Kenneth Shuler, one of Jamerson's customers. "It looked pretty bad."
But then, he said, the storm passed and the sky lightened.
Less than an hour after the warning was canceled, Jacksonville seemed to be having a normal Thursday night. There were lines of cars at fast-food restaurants, people milling about outside student apartment complexes. Aside from some limbs on the road, there was little sign of a strong storm.
Chamblee said the county did see a power outage, in Piedmont, though that outage was due to lightning, not wind. He said it's up to the weather service to determine whether a tornado actually struck in the warning area. That's typically done with an on-the ground assessment of damage.
Calhoun and surrounding counties remained under a tornado watch until midnight.