Was it a tornado or not?
A rural Fulton County couple is seeking the answer to that question after a Fourth of July storm ripped the roof off their garage, twisted a telephone poll and knocked trees down at their farm.
"It started with marble size hail and then it rained like crazy for over 20 minutes," said Anthony Stillwell, owner of the farm. "After seeing the damage it caused I thought it must have been a tornado."
Senior forecaster John Lewis with the National Weather Service in Little Rock said there were no reports of a tornado in Fulton County or the surrounding counties on July 4.
Lewis said the damage at the Stillwell farm could have been caused by a small tornado, but there is a more likely culprit.
"Conditions that day were not conducive for a tornado," Lewis said. "It was more likely that it was a strong downwind or microburst."
He said downwinds and microbursts are the result of warmer, moisture laden air rising into the upper regions of the atmosphere. Hail and other forms of precipitation form in the upper atmosphere and then rush back towards the ground, pulling cold air with them, Lewis said.
This downward motion produces 100 mph gusts of wind that spread out in a circular pattern, he said.
Stillwell said his neighbors didn't receive the same damage or the amount of a rain he did.
Lewis said strong storms did dump up to three inches of rain in parts of Fulton County on July 4. He said a particular summer weather event causes some people to receive more rain than their neighbors.
"In the summer time the winds aloft, a term used to describe the winds that move thunderstorms, are weak," Lewis said. "So thunderstorms might stay in one spot for 30 minutes to an hour dumping precipitation in a relatively small area."
He said summer thunderstorms are usually intense for a shorter time than their spring counterparts.
Lewis said the twisted branches at the tops of the trees -- a sign of a tornado -- could have been caused by a downwind or microburst but he wasn't sure.
"A person trained to spot that particular type of weather event would have to look at it to tell for sure," Lewis said.
Stillwell said he didn't see a tornado but the damage to the trees in his yard had the earmarks of the deadly weather event.
In his yard several trees are twisted at the top in a circular motions.
Fulton County Judge Charles Willett sent four county workers out to the Stillwell farm to clear debris off their driveway so they could get out.
Stillwell, who recently retired from the Navy and bought his 130-acre farm three years ago, said he has never been through a tornado before.
Was he scared when this storm flared up in his yard?
"When I was in the Navy we went through several hurricanes," Stillwell said. "When you're out on the North Atlantic and a 22-foot wall of water is rising just off your bow, it takes a lot to scare you."