The tornadoes Tuesday and Wednesday broke the nation's longest break between tornado fatalities since detailed records began being kept in 1950, according to the Storm Prediction Center and National Climatic Data Center. The last one was June 24 in Florida. That was 220 days ago as of Tuesday.
Winter tornadoes are not unheard of: In January 2012, at least two tornadoes ripped across Alabama, killing two people and wiping out scores of homes and businesses. Warm air from the Gulf of Mexico can collide with cold air inland, creating the sort of instability that spawned this week's tornadoes.
National Weather Service meteorologist George Wetzel said the storm that tore through Adairsville was a high EF3 in strength, creating winds of more than 100 miles per hour. An EF5 is the strongest tornado category.
The storm traveled 25 miles across Bartow and Gordon counties, and it is not yet clear how long it took for the storm to travel through the area, Wetzel said.
By Thursday, the focus in Adairsville had turned to cleanup and rebuilding. Metal siding and fiberglass insulation dangled from trees; Christmas ornaments and knickknacks were strewn across lawns, the homes that had housed them no longer standing.
Dozens of law enforcement officials from several agencies swarmed the area, as well as other relief workers. A Krystal fast food restaurant in town served meals to rescuers as well as residents struggling to recover.
Daiki plant manager Wes Stephenson said Thursday that the facility would likely have to at least temporarily lay off most of its 90 employees. The storm knocked out most of its manufacturing capability, but there are some sections of the plant still standing where employees could do some finishing work. Stephenson said he hoped to keep a skeleton crew to do that finishing work until the rest of the plant could be repaired, which would likely take at least several months.
Rodey Kirby, a production worker, was among those who didn't know if he'd still have a job in the coming days. He was working Wednesday when the lights started flickering, and Stephenson told him and others to run. They took cover in a restroom, and Kirby and two colleagues kneeled and started praying. He heard the unmistakable roar of a tornado; he looked up and saw the ceiling tiles vanish.
"I'd see daylight and no daylight; daylight and no daylight. And then it seemed like it took forever, but then it was over," Kirby said.
"I looked around and everybody was there. And I'm glad (God) heard our prayers because that's the only thing I could do with it, just hold on and pray."