Moving east from Alabama, strong storms raked northwest Georgia including Cobb County, Georgia
before heading towards Atlanta. About 9:30 pm Atlanta stations interrupted regular programming with reports of tornado warnings for the Atlanta area including most of North Fulton County. A telltale hook echo had been spotted on the enhanced Doppler radar at National Weather Service headquarters in Peachtree City.
At 9:38pm a tornado touched down in Vine City near the intersection of Simpson Road and Burbank Drive (just east of the railroad crossing on Simpson near Chappell). It traveled almost due east cutting a 200 foot wide, 1.6 mile-long path through Vine City to the Georgia World Congress Center, 100 yards north of the Georgia Dome.
Inside the Georgia Dome the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Basketball Tournament was underway featuring Alabama and Mississippi State in an exciting quarterfinal game. An incredible 3-point shot by Alabama's Mykal Riley pushed the game into overtime about 9:20pm. Had this shot missed thousands of fans would have been on the streets of Atlanta when the tornado struck. At 9:39 MSU was ahead of Alabama 64-61 with 2:11 remaining in overtime when small pieces of the roof (including bolts) were torn off and fell to the ground.
Suddenly an unusually loud sound from outside the stadium halted play as the large scaffolding in the Dome holding TV cameras and cameramen began to sway within the dome. The cameramen quickly made their way to safety. A public address announcer told the audience of storms approach and the CW television announcers Tim Brando (play-by-play) and Joe Dean (analyst) described the movement of the dome to the audience while the teams returned to the locker rooms for safety.
Initially fans began to stream out of the Georgia Dome however security officers for the building calmed the audience. Most fans returned to their seats even as more pieces of the Dome began to fall to floor. Falling debris from roof of the dome injured 9 people. Although the basketball game in progress was completed 64 minutes later (MSU won 69-67), four other championship games were moved to Alexander Memorial Stadium at Georgia Tech.
The next building in the storm's direct path was the Georgia World Congress Center where it tore a hole in the roof and damaged the CNN Center and the adjacent Omni Hotel. According to CNN its building sustained ceiling damage, allowing water to pour into the atrium, and windows shattered in the CNN newsroom and the company's library. Basketball fans inside nearby Phillips Arena watching the Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Clippers game were not disturbed, although high winds tore signs off the parking garage when the storm passed overhead.
On the south end of Centennial Park trees were uprooted and two of the landmark Olympic torches were knocked over. Both Ted's Montana Grill and the Tabernacle sustained wind damage. Westin Peachtree Plaza, Georgia Pacific, and the Suntrust Building (all on Peachtree Street) were damaged including broken windows, metal sub-structures torn off and insulation lying at the base of the buildings. Hardest hit of the Peachtree Street structures was the 453-foot tall Equitable building. Located between Luckie and Williams Streets near Georgia State University and completed in 1968, the Atlanta landmark suffered a number of broken windows but little additional damage.
After crossing the Downtown Connector (I-75 and I-85) at the Edgewood Drive exit the tornado took aim at the Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts, constructed from the old Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill complex on the north end of Cabbagetown near Oakland Cemetery.
Construction on the mill began in 1881 and by the time it was abandoned in 1977 the nine building complex was spread out over more than 12 acres of land. The property sat unused until 1996 when Winter Properties decided to renovate the buildings into loft apartments. In 1999 fire swept the complex. At the fire's height, a firefighter, tethered to a rope dangling from a helicopter, plucked a crane operator from his 250-foot perch above the flames and carried him to safety as crowds watched.
Oakland Cemetery and Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts suffered heavy damage, including a building collapse at the lofts and large gravestones overturned.
Homes in the Cabbagetown section of Atlanta also suffered damage from this tornado. Later the Weather Service said the tornado was an EF-2
On Saturday, March 15, a similar system formed in Alabama with multiple meso-cyclones. Near the Polk County-Floyd County line the Alabama state line a tornado struck the home of Bonnie Turner. Turner, who along with her husband breed American hairless terriers and rat terriers, was found dead after the storm along with 30 dogs from their kennel. Her husband was injured, their house destroyed and more than 60 of their dogs remained unaccounted for following the tragedy. scattered across the couple's 86-acre property. The EF-3 tornado was five times as big as the tornado that struck Atlanta the day before.
A DAMAGE SURVEY TEAM FROM THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FORECAST OFFICE IN PEACHTREE CITY HAS CONFIRMED THAT AN EF2 TORNADO TRACKED THROUGH THE HEART OF THE CITY OF ATLANTA BETWEEN 938 AND 950 PM EST
ON FRIDAY, MARCH 14TH.
THE TORNADO FIRST TOUCHED DOWN NEAR THE INTERSECTION OF SIMPSON AND BURBANK STREETS IN THE VINE CITY NEIGHBORHOOD AT APPROXIMATELY 938 PM. THE TORNADO THEN TRACKED DUE EAST OVER THE CENTER OF THE GEORGIA WORLD CONGRESS CENTER /ABOUT 100 YARDS NORTH OF THE GEORGIA DOME WHERE AN SEC BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT WAS TAKING PLACE/...ACROSS THE CNN/OMNI HOTEL COMPLEX AND PHILLIPS ARENA /WHERE AN NBA BASKETBALL GAME WAS UNDERWAY/...OVER THE EQUITABLE BANK TOWER...ACROSS I-85/75 AT THE EDGEWOOD EXIT...AND THEN INTO THE COTTON MILL LOFTS ACROSS FROM OAKLAND CEMETERY.
FROM THIS POINT...THE TORNADO WEAKENED BUT CAUSED SPOTTY TREE AND ROOF DAMAGE INTO EXTREME WESTERN DEKALB COUNTY NEAR THE JUNCTION OF BRAEBURN AND JOSEPHINE STREETS...WHERE IT LIFTED. THE TORNADO HAD A TOTAL PATH LENGTH OF SIX MILES AND A MAXIMUM PATH WIDTH OF 200 YARDS AT ITS
MAXIMUM STRENGTH. MAXIMUM WIND SPEEDS WERE ESTIMATED NEAR 130 MPH...WHICH IS A HIGH END EF2 ON THE ENHANCED FUJITA SCALE.
AS IT MOVED ACROSS THE GWCC/CNN/OMNI COMPLEX...THE TORNADO WIDTH WAS ABOUT 100 YARDS WIDE AND PRODUCED HIGH EF1 WINDS OF ABOUT 100 MPH.
AT LEAST 50 HOMES WERE DAMAGED BY THE TORNADO...AS WERE SEVERAL MULTI-STORY TOWERS AND COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS NEAR AND EAST OF THE CENTENNIAL OLYMPIC PARK. WINDOWS WERE BLOWN OUT OF MANY OF THE TOWERS...AT ALL HEIGHTS. DAMAGE IN RESIDENTIAL AND INDUSTRIAL AREAS RANGED FROM ROOFING MATERIALS BLOWN FROM HOMES AND BUSINESSES TO TREES FALLING ON STRUCTURES AND VEHICLES. THE COTTON MILL LOFTS EXPERIENCED THE MOST SIGNIFICANT DAMAGE WITH THE ROOF BLOWN OFF AND EXTERIOR WALLS OF THE TOP /FOURTH/ FLOOR BLOWN INWARD. TWO SECTIONS OF THE FOURTH FLOOR COLLAPSED ALL THE WAY INTO BASEMENT OF THE BUILDING...TRAPPING SEVERAL PEOPLE IN THE COMPLEX.
NO WEATHER-RELATED FATALITIES WERE REPORTED WITH THE TORNADO...BUT NUMEROUS NON-LIFE-THREATING INJURIES OCCURRED.
THE NWS IS GRATEFUL TO THE ATLANTA POLICE DEPARTMENT FOR PROVIDING AERIAL SURVEY SUPPORT AND TO THE ATLANTA/FULTON COUNTY EMA FOR THEIR ASSISTANCE.