BYROMVILLE, Ga. -- A weather station in Georgia may have recorded a state-record wind gust after it took a direct or near-direct hit from a tornado during Tuesday's severe weather outbreak.
The University of Georgia Weather Network station near Byromville recorded a gust of 129.3 mph at 3:26 p.m.; at the same time, it registered a temperature of -146F, suggesting the thermometer sensor had broken.
"My first thought was that it must have been an instrument failure, but temperature and wind are measured using different instruments, so that did not make sense," Pam Knox, the director of the UGA Weather Network, wrote in a blog post shortly after the event. "Some further digging showed that the temperature sensor failed at the same time that the peak wind gust occurred, and the air pressure also spiked low at the same time."
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service in Atlanta had just posted a storm report denoting a possible tornado about 1/4 mile north of the weather station.
More evidence of a tornado hit surfaced later when the farm owner where the weather station sits posted photos of apparent tornado damage on the property, including a destroyed barn. Debris was strewn around the station as well.
"Perhaps the 129.3 mph wind gust was no error but a pinpoint measurement of a tornado!" Knox wrote.
It turns out Knox was correct! A National Weather Service storm survey team went to the scene Thursday and confirmed it was an EF-2 tornado. Usually, the NWS estimates a tornado rating based on the damage, but this time they had hard data!
"A University of Georgia Mesonet weather station also located at this intersection was damaged but continued to report wind and pressure data (the cup anemometer did not appear damaged), measuring a maximum gust of 129.3 mph," the NWS wrote in its storm survey. "Based on the level of damage in the immediate surrounding area, it was determined the weather station's wind gust measurement was accurate and total peak wind was estimated at 130 mph."
It could be among the highest wind speeds ever reliably recorded in Georgia. Knox says they will submit their findings to NOAA's State Climate Extremes Committee which will pore over the data and decide whether to accept the measurement as valid and if so, make it an official record.
Knox says she suspects the previous top gust in the state would be the 115 mph gust one of her stations measured in Donalsonville during Hurricane Michael, but that data was never submitted to NOAA's panel.
The NOAA panel recently accepted a measured gust of 120.1 mph near Princeton, Kentucky during the deadly tornado in December as a state record, and also validated Hanford, Washington's 120-degree reading during last June's historic heat wave across the west as the hottest temperature ever recorded in Washington.