WSAV NOW Weather: 2020 Year in Review

WSAV NOW Weather

(WSAV) – To say 2020 was a crazy year would be an understatement! The year kicked off and ended with above average temperatures. Overall, we had 211 days with above-average temperatures as well as tied/broke 15 record high temperatures.

Over the year for the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry, there were 273 thunderstorm warnings issued and 33 tornado warnings issued. Out of those warnings, we had 6 confirmed tornadoes.

Our first threat of severe weather happened right as the new year started.

SUNDAY, JANUARY 12: Southeast Mayhem

A strong, potent cold front tracked through the southeast on January 10-11. Very warm temperatures and an abundance of moisture fueled the line of showers and thunderstorms. Before it reached the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry, it produced around 1200 storm reports from Texas into Central Georgia. 1,078 of those reports were from wind damage.

However as it reached us on January 12, it began to lose its steam as it ran into more stable air. There was still enough energy to supply the cold front with heavy rain and isolated thunderstorms. A few of those thunderstorms did become severe, but we didn’t see any reports compared to those to our west.

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 6: Tornado Watch & Flooding

As a strong cold front approached us late in the evening, isolated severe storms began popping up ahead of the main line of rain. In these severe storms, we had the threat of damaging winds, straight line winds, and tornadoes. A tornado watch was issued for all of our counties.

Severe storms brought down trees and powerlines in Hinesville. At one point, we had over 300 lightning strikes in one storm. The pop-up storms were only the first course to the main event that would move in after sunset.

As the cold front pushed through, heavy rain set it in. Heavy rain flooded roads, especially farther inland. County schools in Montgomery and Toombs counties were closed the next day due to flooding.

Flash Flooding

In early March, an area of low pressure sat to our west as a warm front draped over us. The low pressure would slowly progress due east (instead of north) through the southeast. This caused us to be stuck in a pattern of heavy rain and isolated severe storms for 3 days in a row.

A tornado watch was issued on March 4. While we didn’t receive any reports of tornadoes, a funnel cloud was reported in McIntosh County near Highway 99 and Briar Patch Road.

Due to 3 days of heavy rain, many roads became impassible. Martin Luther King Drive in Savannah flooded and all dirt roads in Evans County were closed. One road was even damaged from the rain.

Rain totals continued to add up. On March 4, we had a record rainfall for that day of 2.83″ in Savannah. This broke the old record of 2.16″ set in 1966. A flash flood watch was issued on the 5th.

MONDAY, APRIL 13 – Severe Weather Outbreak

Over the course of 3 1/2 hours, a severe squall line produced 5 tornadoes, over 100 wind damage reports, and over 1,600 lightning strikes at one time. Multiple severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings were issued down the line of severe storms before the cold front pushed offshore by 9-10 am.

Out of all the severe storms from that day, one stands out – the EF-4 Hampton Tornado.

This tornado broke records: it was the strongest tornado in the Coastal Empire & Lowcountry in over a decade, first EF-4 tornado on record in the South Carolina Lowcountry, and first EF-4 tornado in South Carolina since Nov. 7, 1995 (Marion County).

While tornadoes aren’t rare here in the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry (in fact, they can happen at any point of the year), a long-lived EF-4 tornado is! Most tornadoes are about EF-1 in strength and don’t stay on the ground for more than 4-5 miles.

THIS PARTICULAR TORNADO WAS ON THE GROUND FOR 24.04 MILES. It also had a peak width of 0.75 miles (1300 yards) wide. Normally, tornadoes here aren’t wider than 700 yards. 5 people unfortunately lost their lives from this tornado.

The air was unusually unstable and there was a lot of energy for the squall line to use. This is why it was quickly able to producing damaging winds and tornadoes. 4 more tornadoes were produced on that day.

EF-4Hampton County175 mph24.04 miles1300 yards
~0.75 mile
EF-1Wayne County110 mph4.67 miles440 yards
EF-1Screven County105 mph2.83 miles200 yards
100 mph8.93 miles250 yards
EF-0Long County80 mph0.36 miles100 yards

In Wayne County, an EF-1 tornado touched down and damaged over 30 homes. 8 people were injured.

Odom, Wayne County

Heavy Rain & Severe Weather

It felt like deja vu as we had another round of strong to severe storms one week after the tornado outbreak. We had two rounds of severe weather within 12 hours. The first round arrived Sunday evening as storms popped up ahead of the cold front and the second arrived Monday morning along the cold front.

Ahead of the first round, a tornado watch was issued. By mid afternoon, a tornado warning as issued for Bryan, Bulloch, and Evans counties, but the area of rotation quickly weakened allowing for the warning to be cancelled.

As the second round approached before sunrise Monday, the environment was overworked from the overnight heavy rain and thunderstorms. This allowed for the second batch of severe weather to be weaker than the first. While we did get heavy rain and strong thunderstorms, it wasn’t a repeat of the previous week.

THURSDAY, APRIL 23: Severe Weather

Severe weather struck again as a strong cold front tracked through during the afternoon and evening. A tornado warning was issued for Wayne and McIntosh County as a long tracked area of rotation moved over the counties. Funnel clouds were reported, but no tornadoes touched down.

A record rainfall event was recorded with a total of 3.23″ at the Savannah airport. Most areas picked up 1-3″ of rain with isolated pockets of 4″.

FRIDAY, JUNE 12: Flash Flooding

Thunderstorms formed along a cold front that was stalled across the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry. Thunderstorms developed quickly, but were very slow-moving. This allowed for storms to sit in one spot. With the ground already soaked with 1-3″ of rain from the previous days, puddles easily began to grow.

Our own WSAV Ben Katko had to leave his car when he ran into a flooded street in his neighborhood. He carried his son on his shoulders to get home.

MONDAY, AUGUST 3: Hurricane Isaias

Now we’ve reached the crazy 2020 hurricane season. Hurricane Isaias was a tropical storm as it passed us. This was mainly a coastal area event. Isaias was incredibly lopsided as it tracked north-northeast off the Georgia/South Carolina coast. This spared us from major impacts.

Ahead of the storm, we had rough surf and a high risk of rip currents. Out on Tybee beaches, water was pushed up to the sand dunes. As the storm passed, tropical storm force wind and flooding rain were felt along the coast. Because of the strongest winds were pushing onshore at the time of low tide, we didn’t see storm surge.

THURSDAY, AUGUST 6: Severe Storms

After Tropical Storm Isaias passed, the lingering moisture and warm air help fuel thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening. A severe storm tracked through Chatham, Effingham, and Jasper Counties in the evening.

The storm produced over 700 lightning strikes and caused severe thunderstorm damage in Rincon as several trees were knocked down.


Just like the lingering moisture and warm air helped aide the August 6th storm, the remnants of Sally created enough moisture to allow for severe thunderstorms and quick spin ups.

Early Thursday morning, a tornado warning was issued for Effingham County. Several reports of damage came out of the county. The National Weather Service survey results stats in an EF-1 tornado with peak winds of 100 mph, traveling 2.56 miles.

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 24: Severe Storms

Severe weather gave us a holiday headache on Christmas Eve as a strong cold front approached the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry around just after sunset.

While the line of rain began to weaken as it reached Central Georgia, it strengthened again once passing Alma as it reached unstable air and warm temperatures closer to the coast. The warm air fueled the severe storms.

Severe thunderstorm warnings traveled along the cold front. After 6:30 pm, a tornado warning was issued for Hampton County. The area of rotation quickly weakened after the warning was issued and no tornado sightings were reported.

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