As high winds, quarter-sized hail and two tornadoes swept through Calloway County late Sunday night, students crowded together in their powerless residential colleges and took cover.
Local TV and radio stations had predicted severe storms in the community for most of the day. Although isolated tornadoes were possible, the National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky., set the threat as relatively low.
Meteorologists suggested the storms would arrive some time around 7 p.m., but most readers reported seeing severe activity much later in the evening – around 10 p.m.
According to the NWS, the severe weather event was caused by a high-pressure system interacting with the warmer low pressure swath of air that had settled over the region for several days.
The heart of the storm, centered south of Murray near Paris, Tenn., caused high winds and hail. Limited tornadic weather symptoms were seen, excepting an FI tornado, which set down in Hazel, Ky., at 11:03 p.m., and caused peak winds of up to 95 mph.
That tornado uprooted hundreds of trees, leveled two garages and caused other more minor property damage in southern Calloway County.
In Murray, there were several reports of egg-sized hail, heavy rain and damaging wind, but to most students, the event was unnerving and mostly in the dark.
Sirens sounded around 11 p.m. and Public Safety issued an all clear at 11:25 p.m.
All of the residential colleges, with the exception of Old Richmond and Franklin, along with the Wellness Center, Winslow and College Courts lost power around 9:30 p.m. due to an electrical circuit outage.
Kim Oatman, chief facilities management officer, said the electrical circuit outage was caused by a lightning strike at Elizabeth Residential College. That strike caused a power surge through the very line to which most residential colleges are connected.
Oatman said the surge caused a building-wide power outage due to a foundation circuit failure.
He said Facilities Management is still investigating the cause.
Oatman said Old Richmond and Franklin residential colleges are different circuit than the rest of the dorms, which prevented the surge from completely eliminating power from those residential colleges for the same extended period of time.
“Richmond and Franklin did lose power periodically,” Oatman said. “But it eventually came back on.”
He said Facilities Management initially found no significant damage, but one area at the Faculty Club on 14th Street experienced water seepage through the roof during the night’s heavy storms.
“We won’t know for sure until we have another rain to see if our roofs were damaged for sure,” Oatman said.
He said with the relatively mild winter, it is hard to predict what type of weather we will see during the usually storm-heavy spring.
“We are probably going to see an increase in the frequency of storms,” he said. “We are probably going to see a little more damage than what we are used to.”
He said Facilities Management is prepared to deal with the possible severe weather.
“We have someone at our central plant at all times and is kind of the central point of observation and control,” he said. “We call people in that we need. We have people and equipment backed up and ready to go.”
According to the NWS in Paducah, the damage in Calloway County is estimated around $50,000.