A confirmed tornado caused extensive damage Wednesday afternoon at Lynchburg-Clay High School and at other locations around the area.
Late Wednesday, the National Weather Service confirmed an EF0 tornado had touched down.
“A damage survey team from our office has confirmed an EF0 tornado with winds to 85 mph touched down south of Lynchburg,” said the NWS.
There were approximately 50 students inside the high school at the time the tornado struck, and several other students and parents were in a parking lot on the east side of the school. But Lynchburg-Clay Superintendent Shane Shope said officials do not believe anyone was injured.
“What I’ve been told by witnesses involved, that were in the parking lot, is that they saw a cloud with rotational movement and then it dropped, pretty much right on top of the school,” said Dave Manning, chief of the Lynchburg Area Joint Fire & Ambulance District. “Then about as quick as it came, it was gone, headed east.”
Most of the damage was on the back side of the school. A shed used to store mowers and other equipment on the west side of the campus had sheet metal ripped off that was scattered throughout the backside of the campus.
Bleachers on the softball diamond were lifted up and twisted, a batting cage blew 60 to 70 yards from the baseball field to center field on the softball diamond, a door to the ag department was damaged, there was minor damage inside the high school, a parking lot light fixture was bent to the ground, and downed trees, limbs and other debris were littered about the campus.
Manning said his department’s captain, Dave Higgins, saw debris in the sky and a rotating cloud in the air looking west from his Higgins Construction and Supply business on U.S. Route 50 a few miles east of Lynchburg. According to Manning, Higgins followed the cloud to Hillsboro, then a deputy with the Highland County Sheriff’s Office picked up its path and followed it to the Ross County line, but they never saw it touch down again.
“We’re just very happy school was not in session,” Shope said. “From what we understand, no one was injured, so we’re blessed from that standpoint, and there was minimal damage to the school that can be repaired, so we’re blessed that way, too.
“We’re just very fortunate we didn’t have to make up all those snow days.”
Lynchburg-Clay guidance counselor and girls basketball coach Whitney Lewis said a basketball camp for girls in grades 6-8, with some of her varsity team members helping, was ending about the time the tornado struck, at the same time volleyball team members were arriving for practice.
“You know what, they were a little shook up and a little scared,” Lewis said.
She said many of them saw a funnel cloud and others were in cars that had windows broken by the storm.
Lynchburg-Clay Board of Education member Chad McConnaughey said his wife, Becky, was in the parking lot waiting to pick up kids when the tornado struck.
“She said everything was spinning around and it felt like the car was lifting off the ground,” McConnaughey said.
At a property just east of the high school, across Dawson Road, several trees were uprooted, an outbuilding was damaged and a trampoline was wrapped around a utility pole, about 15 feet off the ground.
A clear path of destruction was visible in a woods behind the property.
Local resident Tom Pitzer said he saw what he assumes was a tornado around 4 p.m. at his shop on Gibler Road, and that he figures it was the same one that struck the high school shortly before. He said he was standing outside with two of his employees and that one of them was out back parking a truck when he heard trees snapping.
“He ran around and said we might want to see this, and we stood there and watched it for a bit, then decided we better head to the basement,” Pitzer said. “And then it was gone.”
Pitzer said mostly what he saw were limbs and leaves swirling around in the valley behind his shop. He said he didn’t hear a lot of noise other than trees and limbs snapping off.
“It was nothing like a train – a little howl – but it wasn’t a real big one,” Pitzer said. “It was kind of whistling, but mostly what we heard was just stuff breaking.”
Shope said there may have been some roof damage to the school, but that it appeared that everything could be repaired without too much trouble.
“We were lucky,” he said. “It could have been a lot worse.”
Jeff Gilliland may be reached at 937-393-3456 ext. 209 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.