High winds, not a tornado, blamed for Tuesday's storm damage

By Lauren Hallow Published:

Tuesday's downed power lines and roof damage were caused by straight-line winds, not a tornado, officials from the National Weather Service determined after surveying damage in Franklin County today.

About seven storage units at Ratliff’s Self Storage Center on U.S. 421 were damaged after strong winds tore through the area around noon Tuesday, said manager Leslie Driskell.

One of those units belongs to KB Construction, and the owner, Kevin Breeck, was inside when the storm came through. He said he was just leaving when the winds picked up.

“I was about three-quarters of the way through shutting the door … and the whole roof ripped off right over my head,” Breeck said, as he carried wet supplies into his truck.

Breeck wasn’t immediately sure if he lost anything, since he’s still in the process of cleaning up.

“I have at least $20,000 in tools (in the unit),” Breeck said. “I don’t know what’s good and what’s not … hopefully it’s salvageable.”

Driskell said she was still waiting on the insurance company to determine the cost of property damage, but estimated that repairing the storage units will cost at least $20,000.

The roofs that blew off knocked down two electrical poles, four transformers and “a bunch of wires” before the roof came to rest on the side of the next-door building, Kentucky Correctional Industries, said Frankfort Plant Board Electrical

Superintendent Scott Hudson, who was on the scene with more than a dozen FPB employees working to upright the poles and restore power.

The roof of Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate’s barn was also a casualty of the high winds.

“It looks like (the wind) sort of lifted it off,” Wingate said of the Bridgeport Road barn. “The barn’s been standing there since the beginning of time … it’s been through every kind of storm in the world, but this storm was evidently sort of different.”

Wingate, who used the barn for storage, called the building “a total loss” and estimated it would cost about $75,000 to rebuild.

Hudson said Tuesday’s damage could have been caused by a microburst, which is a powerful, localized wind current.

“It wouldn’t surprise me,” said Mike Callahan, an NWS hydrologist, on whether a microburst hit the area. “We don’t have wind measurements everywhere, but for us to declare a severe thunderstorm, (winds) have to be in excess of 60 mph … if the wind catches the shed just right, it can peel the roof right off.”

Franklin County was under a severe thunderstorm warning from around 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. In that time period, county Emergency Management Director Deron Rambo’s office recorded wind speeds up to 50 mph, but Rambo said it could have been a burst of 60-70 mph winds that took the roofs off the storage units.

“It’s a typical spring storm,” he said. “It’s just the wrong time of the year.”

Besides the roofs, Rambo wasn’t aware of any other storm damage around the county.

FPB spokesman Glenn Waldrop said only 10-15 customers lost power, and all those reports came from the Leestown Road area near the damaged storage units.

Power was restored to everyone by Tuesday evening.

Compared to the rest of Kentucky, Franklin County got off easy, said Callahan. He said he received reports of possible tornado touchdowns in Jefferson County and in the southern part of the state.

“You guys got some damage, but you escaped the worst of it,” Callahan said.

Later Tuesday, the National Weather Service confirmed an EF1 tornado had touched down in Louisville. That tornado spurred 95 mph winds that damaged buildings, downed power lines and tossed two tractor-trailers off the highway.

Police said no injuries were caused directly from the tornado, but did say one person was killed in a chain-reaction crash while traffic was diverted away from the overturned semis.

At the height of the storm, more than 23,000 customers of Louisville Gas & Electric Co. or Kentucky Utilities Co. were without power, said KU spokeswoman Liz Pratt.

NWS officials also determined a small tornado touched down in Scott County Tuesday. Callahan told The State Journal Wednesday that surveyors looked at damage in Georgetown this morning and determined that an EF1 tornado hit the ground shortly after the storm went through Frankfort. That tornado was on the ground for half a mile on Soards Road and destroyed a couple of barns and fences, Callahan said.

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