National Weather Service meteorologists say strong winds that hit Williamsburg County last weekend had top speeds of 85 miles per hour, but no tornado actually touched down as some in the area first thought.
County fire chief Randy Swinton reported a tornado touchdown near the Manning Highway on Friday. The storm downed tree limbs caused minor damage to some homes along the Manning Highway near Kingstree. However, a NWS survey crew sent to the scene said the evidence did not suggest a tornado.
“Actually the damage that we saw matched up very well with what we would expect to see with straight-line winds associated with a gust front from a very severe thunderstorm,” NWS forecaster Carl Morgan told South Carolina Radio Network. He said the damage followed a wide path over five miles and that downed limbs and other debris had been blown in roughly in the same direction — which would not be the case for a tornado.
There were reports of a funnel cloud that had been spotted, with the Williamsburg County Fire Department even posting a photograph. But NWS forecasters said the photo likely shows a “shelf cloud.” In a Facebook post, the agency’s Wilmington office said the cloud had “lots of rising and sinking motion producing ‘scud,’ or twisting, rolling, detached dark cloud features that look like tornadoes.”
Scud itself is not dangerous, though the winds beneath a shelf cloud can be very strong. Morgan said the difference between strong winds and a small EF-0 tornado may not matter much. “It’s almost irrelevant whether it’s a tornado or not,” he said. “The fact is: the winds were blowing 85 miles an hour. And that’s going to cause a significant amount of damage.”