RICHMOND — The tornado that slammed Madison County Friday afternoon skipped and hopped for 19.5 miles in 21 minutes.
It reached its strongest point, with winds possibly exceeding 200 mph, near the point where it tossed a mobile home into a pond, killing two people.
At that point, near Ky. 52, it was considered an F3 tornado, the National Weather Service office in Louisville said.
Witnesses described the mobile home as exploding when the tornado hit it. The trailer and six people, including two children, were thrown into the pond. Killed were Glenda Charbonnel, 46, and Shawn Michael Yarber, 35.
Madison County officials have counted about 150 buildings, mostly homes, that were damaged by the tornado. Officials didn't count barns and silos.
It also crossed the Bluegrass Chemical Activity, and skirted the northern edge of the Chemical Limited Area, where deadly nerve agent is stored.
"It's all very minor damage and did not effect the chemical weapons stockpile," spokesman Richard Sloan said. He did say that guards checking for damage found a stop sign that had blown into the fenced, high-security area from somewhere else.
The tornado originated in Garrard County before entering Madison. Its sporadic path went through the Adams Place subdivision in Kirksville, where a number of large brick homes were destroyed. That is within a couple of miles from the spot where two people died in a tornado that hit Poosey Ridge during a record outbreak in 1974.
Carl Richards, Madison County's emergency management director, said the timing of the tornado — about 5 p.m. — was fortunate.
"It would have been a lot worse if it had been later at night and people had been asleep in those second-floor bedrooms," he said. "A lot of those houses no longer have second floors."
The tornado also hit homes in Waco before lifting off the ground, then touching down again to inflict minor damage in Estill County.
The seeming randomness of damage was evident in a flight over Kirksville on Monday. A house on one side of a cul-de-sac was reduced to a pile of wood and bricks. On the other side of the cul-de-sac, a house was barely touched.
"There's no rhyme or reason to Mother Nature — she's unpredictable at best," Richards said.
Another, less-intense tornado hit parts of Barren and Metcalfe counties about 3 p.m. CDT Friday. It followed an intermittent path for about four miles, but it damaged mostly farm buildings and caused no injuries or deaths.
Reach Andy Mead at (859) 231-3319 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3319.