18 Strong to Violent Tornadoes (EF3-EF5) in Alabama April 27, 2011
Despite the fact that we lived through the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak in Alabama and watched it unfold, it is still hard to comprehend the magnitude of the outbreak. In Alabama, the National Weather Service confirmed 18 strong to violent tornadoes (EF3, EF4, or EF5) in the state. There were also 9 EF2 tornadoes, which are considered strong, so by that measure there were 27 strong to violent tornadoes in Alabama! One EF3 tornado on a given day would be big news, but 18 strong to violent tornadoes is hard to fathom. Due to the widespread nature of this outbreak, I think many of these tornadoes and the stories of the people they affected have been under-reported, compared to how it would have been if these tornadoes didn’t all occur on the same day. Of the 238 fatalities in Alabama, 236 of them occurred in the EF3 – EF5 tornadoes mentioned below. In this post, we will take a look at each one of these tornadoes, in chronological order. For each tornado, there is an excerpt from the official NWS Huntsville, Birmingham, or Mobile storm surveys (focusing on the portion where the tornado was strongest) along with images or video associated with that tornado. There were 61 tornadoes in Alabama on April 27, 2011. This is the story of the 18 most violent.
According to the NWS Birmingham, “Northeast of Holman, the tornado strengthened to an EF3 with winds of 140 mph and caused significant damage to a home. It removed the roof and tossed it at least 200 yards. A 3500 pound trailer was thrown about 100 yards.” Fortunately there were no deaths or injuries with this tornado.
According to the NWS Birmingham, “The tornado quickly strengthened as it moved through Coaling to an EF3 rating with winds of 155 mph as it remained south of US Hwy 11. At least a dozen homes sustained damage. Several homes were completely destroyed.” On a personal note, I have friends who were injured in this tornado, Reggie and Danielle Eppes. They told their compelling story on National Public Radio. According to the NWS web site there were no injuries or fatalities. However, I do know the Eppes’ family did sustain injuries.
According to the NWS Birmingham, “The tornado touched down southwest of CR 6 and rapidly intensified to an EF3 rating with winds of 140 mph. Along Horseshoe Bend, a home was completely leveled, where it swept the foundation clean of the structure and debris. The tornado continued north northeast through the Richardson subdivision and across Pleasantville Road. It destroyed at least two single-wide manufactured homes.” Twenty people were injured. There were no fatalities.
From the NWS Huntsville, “The tornado continued to track northeast toward the town of Cullman where some of the worst damage occurred just northeast of Highways 31 and 278. Several small retail buildings were completely destroyed along with near total destruction of a large church in downtown Cullman. The tornado continued its track northeast, crossing Highway 157 then creating additional damage north of Highway 69 between Simcoe and Pleasant View. Just north of Fairview along CR 1559 and CR 1564, two homes were destroyed with significant portions of the homes not found. Further northeast along CR 1589, major structural damage occurred to several old (early 1900s) homes and numerous hardwood trees were debarked. Outside of the city ofCullman, significant damage occurred in a 1/4-1/2 mile wide corridor north of Highway 69, between Fairview and the Cullman/Morgan county line. The tornado crossed out of Cullman County briefly into extreme southeast Morgan County near the town of Hulaco. Significant damage occurred between Hyatt Bottom Road and Blocker Road, just east of Highway 67. Several cinder block and old construction homes were destroyed and numerous trees were snapped and sheared toward the base. Significant damage from the long-track tornado continued into northwest Marshall County. The worst of the damage occurred from the Morgan/Marshall county line, along Hog Jaw Road, northeast to Highway 231 (about 3 miles north of Arab). Along Hog Jaw Road, a large storage shed with farm equipment was destroyed and some of the large machinery was tossed 10 to 20 yards away from the shed. Closer to the town of Ruth, Mount Oakand Frontier Roads were hardest hit. In this neighborhood, a cinder block/cement home was nearly wiped clean and debris from this home was thrown about 50-100 yards away. A trailer was missing and a metal bolted garage was wiped clean of its foundation. Along Frontier Road, a large brick home was nearly wiped clean off its foundation with several large trees ripped out of the ground and missing. Further northeast along the path, along Walnut Ridge, a one-story home was severely damaged with the roof missing and a trailer was tossed about 100 yards and into a tree. Several concrete power poles were bent over as the tornado crossed Hwy 231, some bent at the base. On the east side of Hwy 231, a Jet Pep gas station building was completely demolished and two gas pumps were ripped from the ground and missing.” According to the NWS Huntsville, winds with this tornado were estimated to be as high as 175 mph. There were 6 deaths and at least 48 injuries as a result of this tornado.
There were some great videos of this tornado. Looking north as it crossed I-65
Jason Simpson and James Spann’s coverage…
My sons David and Joe Wilhelm helped in the recovery in Cullman. Joe, who was 15 at the time, describes what he witnessed in this video.
From the NWS Birmingham, “The storm strengthened further as it approached US Hwy 43, southwest of Hackleburg, to a violent EF4 rating with winds estimated at 170 mph. The tornado tracked parallel to US Hwy 43 toward Hackleburg and strengthened more to an EF5 with winds up to 210 mph, as its path widened to 0.75 mile (1320 yds). Several subdivisions and businesses, Hackleburg High School, Middle School, and Elementary School, and the Wrangler Plant were destroyed. Vehicles were tossed up to 200 yards. One well built home with 4 brick sides was completely leveled and the debris from the home was tossed over 40 yards to the north. The tornado moved northeast of Hackleburg and continued to parallel US Hwy 43. It crossed into Franklin County just east of the highway. Along the damage path in Marion County, thousands of trees were downed, several hundred structures were damaged, and at least 100 of these structures were completely destroyed as many homes were leveled. Eighteen fatalities are attributed to this tornado in Marion County, as well as numerous injuries. National Weather Service meteorologists, along with the foremost expert in storm damage assessment reviewed the damage in Hackleburg in Marion County. The main indicators of Hackleburg having EF-5 damage is the tossing of vehicles upwards of 150-200 yards, one well built home with 4 sides brick was completely leveled and the debris from the home was tossed to the north over 40 yards, and there was large amounts of wind rowing, the strewing of building materials in straight lines, around the city of Hackleburg. Therefore, the total tornado damage path length was 132 miles. The tornado was at its widest point in Lawrence County Alabama where it was 2200 yards wide.”
From the NWS Huntsville, “Prolific damage was noted from the intersection of County Road 51 and Alabama highway 237, to the intersection of County Road 81 and County Road 75. Within a 2 mile corridor either side of the railroad tracks the damage was significant. Within this corridor, several well-constructed houses were destroyed. Along Brown Street, block homes were leveled to the ground. Along Bonner Street, multiple block homes were leveled to the ground with the block foundations destroyed. A 25 foot section of pavement was sucked up and scattered. Chunks of the pavement were found in a home over 1/3 mile down the road. The damage in this area was deemed to be EF-5. In addition, at least 3 churches along the path sustained significant damage. One church in Phil Campbell was completely destroyed with only the slab remaining. Multiple mobile homes throughout the path were completely destroyed, and their mangled frames were tossed 25 to 50 yards. Cars were tossed and destroyed throughout the path of the tornado, with one car wrapped around a debarked tree in Phil Campbell. All along the path length, thousands of hardwood and softwood trees were snapped. Hundreds of trees were also debarked and twisted, and had only stubs of the largest branches remaining. EF-5 damage continued similarly northeast from Phil Campbell, roughly along County Roads 81 and 82 toward the community of Oak Grove. In Oak Grove, the tornado may have reached a relative maximum in intensity well into the EF-5 category as the damage was slightly more intense and the path width was at a maximum of greater than one mile. A large swath of complete devastation was noted in Oak Grove along County Roads 38 and Smith Lane. A large well-constructed home with extensive anchoring was razed with debris carried well away from the site. A Corvette sports car was mangled and thrown 641 feet (measured). Another large vehicle is still missing. A block home next door was also disintegrated. Along Smith Lane a block home was wiped out and the only remains of a nearby chicken house was a small piece of a metal truss. In this same area, the tree damage was complete and a large percentage of trees were stripped bare. The tornado continued to track northeast into Lawrence County as an EF-5 near the Mt. Hope area where significant devastation was incurred to single family homes and a restaurant. Nothing but the foundation and a pile of debris remained in this area, and a small portion of the restaurant foundation buckled.” The tornado was rated an EF-5 in Marion, Franklin and Lawrence Counties of Alabama. This tornado was responsible for 72 fatalities and at least 145 injuries.
According to the NWS Birmingham, “A 1/2 mile wide swath of EF-3 damage was noted in downtown Cordova. From there, the tornado tracked to the northeast across Burton Chapel Loop Road and crossed the Mulberry fork of the Black Warrior River. As it crossed Mountainview Road, the tornado increased and was rated a violent EF-4 here, as it destroyed 2 single-wide mobile homes, as well as a single family home. One of the mobile home undercarriages was missing, having been tossed at least 500 yards. At this site, a small bulldozer was flipped over, a pickup truck was tossed 200 yards and an International 4700 dump truck was tossed 50 yards being destroyed upon landing. A 2 ton utility trailer from this location was found a mile away, with a 2.5 foot impact crater where it landed. As the tornado neared Old Highway 78, it tossed two double-wide mobile homes at least 100 yards where it became airborne with the frames on top of the debris. The tornado continued tracking toward Sipsey, where an unanchored double-wide mobile home was tossed 100 feet up a 50 foot embankment.” The supercell that produced this tornado later produced an EF5 tornado in Dekalb County. The total tornado damage path length was 128 miles long. All the injuries and fatalities occurred in Central Alabama. The tornado was 1408 yards wide at its widest point in Tuscaloosa County. The tornado was rated an EF-4 in Walker County. There were 13 deaths and at least 54 injuries attributed to this tornado.
From the NWS Birmingham, “The tornado continued as an EF2 rating as it entered Alabama, with winds of 130 mph. It knocked down trees along Mt Tabor Rd and AL Hwy 17. The tornado caused extensive tree damage along CR 34, near Panola, where it knocked down an entire section of pine forest. The tornado continued northeast across north Sumter County and moved into southern Pickens County just west of CR 85. As the tornado strengthened to an EF3 rating with winds of 140 mph, the path width decreased to 0.4 mile (704 yds). As the tornado crossed CR 85, a large cinder block building sustained significant loss of roofing and partial wall collapse.” There were no deaths and two injuries attributed to this tornado.
Prior to this tornado entering Alabama, it caused EF5 damage in Smithville, Mississippi. According to the NWS Birmingham, “As the tornado approached AL Hwy 19, 4 miles east southeast of Shottsville, it strengthened to an EF3 rating with winds of 160 mph, and destroyed several homes. This resulted in 6 fatalities. The tornado continued northeastward where it destroyed several single family homes and mobile homes along CR 20 and AL Hwy 187, 9 miles north of Hamilton.” Including the tornado’s entire path through Mississippi and Alabama there were 23 deaths and at least 137 injuries.
According to the NWS Huntsville, “The tornado rapidly intensified to high end EF-3 to low end EF-4 strength within a matter of minutes with peak wind speeds of 150 to 170 mph and a path width of 1/2 to 3/4 mile as it roared into areas northeast of Pisgah and north of Rosalie. Residents interviewed remarked that this tornado was multi-vortex with up to three tornadoes merging into one very large tornado. There was some evidence of this in the damage swath, but an aerial survey may prove more telling. This tornado demolished several mobile homes and block foundation homes in its path, and snapped or uprooted thousands of trees. Numerous trees were debarked in the process. The tornado leveled at least two mobile homes and swept their remains hundreds of yards downwind. Three were killed in three separate homes along this first part of the tornado’s path. Several vehicles were launched or swept several yards in different directions, in a few cases up to 50 yards away from their initial location. The Friendship Church roof was heavily damaged. Several farms were also affected, with barns and chicken houses heavily damaged or destroyed. As the tornado continued its track, it intensified even further to high-end EF-4 intensity with peak winds of up to 190 mph as it approached the Flat Rock and Higdon communities. The tornado killed another three from the same family at a residence southwest of Flat Rock. The tornado mowed down thousands of trees in a 1/2 to 3/4 mile path width. One well-built block foundation home literally exploded as the tornado struck, lifting and sweeping all its structure and contents downwind, in some cases several hundred yards. However, miraculously, a mother and three children taking refuge in a hallway were completely unharmed. At this farm, all fencing was destroyed and up to 19 cattle were killed. Two chicken barns were completely obliterated and swept away unidentifiably. A propane tank was lifted from the previous location of chicken barns and dropped over 100 yards away in front of the destroyed home. The tornado continued its wide path and violent destruction across the northern tip of Dekalb County in the Shiloh community, killing up to 5 people in this area. Several cinder block foundation homes and mobile homes were completely destroyed or swept away. In addition, thousands of large trees were sheared off toward the base. An older two-story (fairly well-built) log cabin was destroyed. The top story of this home was lifted off, moved about 20 yards and twisted 180 degrees. The lower story collapsed and was shifted off its foundation. A senior citizen van was lofted and dropped into a field nearly 400 yards away. At least three chicken barns were collapsed with a high loss of livestock noted.” The tornado continued into Georgia. There were 14 deaths and at least 50 injuries attributed to this tornado.
From the NWS Birmingham, “The tornado strengthened as it crossed the Black Warrior River, north of Interstate 20 and approached Tuscaloosa to a violent EF4 with winds of 170 mph. As the tornado approached Interstate 359, several buildings were destroyed including the Tuscaloosa County Emergency Operations Center. Along 15th St E. and McFarland Blvd E., several small restaurants and stores were destroyed, with only a wall or two still standing. The tornado devastated the Cedar Crest neighborhood just north of 15th St, leveling many cinder block homes and causing at least 3 fatalities. The tornado crossed McFarland Blvd, where destroyed additional stores and restaurants. The tornado crossed University Blvd in the Alberta City community. Alberta Elementary School suffered nearly complete destruction, with only a few portions of walls still standing. A nearby two story apartment building was reduced to rubble sitting on the foundation. The Alberta Park Shopping Center was completely destroyed with no walls standing and a pile of debris on the foundation. Cinder block construction homes in the surrounding neighborhood were completely destroyed, and in a few cases debris was swept away from the site. The tornado continued northeast and struck the Chastain Manor Apartments at the north end of 34th Ave E. Buildings on the east side of this new 2 story apartment complex were completely destroyed, with only a pile of debris remaining and a few walls set into the hillside. A small club house that was anchored to a foundation, but with apparently no interior walls, was completely destroyed and swept from its foundation. Similar devastation to homes and businesses was noted along both sides of CR 45 near 1st St E. and locations to the northeastward. East of Holt, the tornado path width widened from 0.5 mile to around 1 mile. The tornado crossed Holt Peterson Rd just northwest of Clinker Rd, where two homes were completely destroyed. One home on a foundation was swept clean, with only floor joists remaining attached to the foundation. Almost all trees were blown down or snapped in the vicinity, as well as in the bottom of a narrow ravine nearly 100 feet below the house. The tornado continued to Holt Lock and Dam Road near its intersection with Recreation Area Road. Numerous mobile homes and several cinder block homes were destroyed in this area, which resulted in several fatalities. The tornado struck a marina on Holt Lake at the end of Recreation Area Road where it caused significant damage to a restaurant as well as numerous boats. Several injuries were noted in this area.
In the Concord area, the tornado became violent once again with total destruction noted to a few small retail shops along County Road 46. Only piles of debris were left on the foundation. In addition, several cinder block homes were completely destroyed with debris swept away (EF-4). Numerous other homes in the area were destroyed with only a few interior walls left standing. The tornado continued northeastward out of the Concord area and into the Pleasant Grove community. EF-4 damage was prevalent here, with slabs wiped clean, though the debris from each home had not been removed by the winds. The majority of it remained within a couple of yards of the home. It was here in Pleasant Grove where evidence of vehicles being moved by the winds become obvious, though most were only tossed 10 to 15 yards if they were picked up at all. Additionally, wind rowing of debris was evident throughout the Pleasant Grove community which is characteristic of a storm of this magnitude.”
The supercell thunderstorm which produced this tornado began in Newton County Mississippi at 2:54 pm, and dissipated in Macon County, North Carolina at 10:18 pm., so the supercell lasted 7 hours and 24 minutes and traveled approximately 380 miles. It produced several strong to violent tornadoes along the way. There were at least 64 deaths and at least 1500 injuries attributed to this tornado, which was on the ground for 81 miles.
According to the NWS Huntsville, “The tornado continued to the northeast and at the intersection of CR 255 and CR 256 the most significant damage was observed, rated EF-4. A residence just to the south of this intersection was reduced to its foundation. A concrete slab at the front of the home was pulled up and a set of concrete stairs was ripped from the foundation. A compact car was thrown about 50 yards from this residence as well. To the northeast of the intersection, two well-built and well anchored homes were also reduced to their foundation. A car was thrown approximately 50 yards across the street from one residence. Several large trees were snapped off a few feet above the ground and a third residence along CR 256 was observed with no walls left standing. Across the street from this home, a mobile home was completely demolished and strewn along CR 256. This tornado continued northeastward and destroyed a cinder block garage and damaged a mobile home along 6th street just southeast of Bridgeport.” According to the NWS Huntsville, there was one death and no injuries resulting from this tornado.
From the NWS Birmingham, “It has been determined that the damage was consistent with a strong tornado with winds estimated to be around 150 mph. The tornado appeared to touch down south of Hamilton near Highway 278, County Road 2, and Philadelphia Road where tree damage was noted. The tornado tracked northeastward and strengthened near the Pea Ridge and Whitehouse communities. Along County Road 45, west of AL Route 253, at least two mobile homes were completely destroyed and six well built homes sustained major damage or were completely destroyed. As the tornado approached US Hwy 278 near Whitehouse, several outbuildings were destroyed and a well built home was destroyed with the foundation swept clean. Several injuries were noted in this area. The tornado continued northeastward and caused mostly tree damage as it neared the Winston County line. In Winston County, the tornado produced significant damage to the Thornhill community and southern and eastern parts of Haleyville. The Winston Furniture Company and Fontaine Trailer Company suffered extensive damage. Many homes were significantly damaged and a couple of homes were destroyed.” There were no deaths but 25 injuries associated with this tornado.
According to the NWS Birmingham, “The tornado crossed the Black Warrior River and into Hale County west of Sawyerville. The tornado crossed AL Route 14, just north of Sawyerville, where it intensified to an EF-3 rating with winds of 145 mph. As the tornado continued northeast, it crossed CR 18, CR 21, AL Hwy 69 south of Harper Hill, and CR 29 east of Ingram. Extensive structural damage was noted in the these locations, which resulted in at least 40 injuries and 6 fatalities. Numerous mobile homes and single family homes and one church were damaged or destroyed. Thousands of trees were knocked down. The tornado moved into the Talladega National Forest near Ingram, where it caused significant tree damage to the Bibb County line. The tornado tracked northeastward where it caused significant tree damage in the national forest. The tornado moved through Eoline and caused significant structural damage consistent with an EF-3 rating and winds of 145 mph. Numerous mobile homes and single family homes sustained minor to major damage. A dozen mobile homes and single family homes were destroyed. In addition, the Eoline Fire Dept and another business were destroyed. One fatality occurred in a vehicle near the fire dept. At least 10 other injuries were noted.” Seven fatalities and 50 injuries were caused by this tornado.
From the NWS Birmingham, “Winds were estimated at 145 mph. The tornado touched down 4.5 miles south of Bobo near Highway 43, where many trees were snapped or uprooted. The tornado moved northeast where a swath of hundreds of trees were knocked down. As the tornado crossed County Road 49, numerous pine trees were sheared off approximately 20 feet above ground level. A home was destroyed as most of its walls collapsed and debris was tossed several hundred feet. As the storm continued along its path, several barns and outbuildings were damaged or destroyed.” No fatalities or injuries were reported. Video after it passed.
From the NWS Huntsville, “Extensive damage was noted especially in the Rainsville and Sylvania communities where the path width was estimated to be up to 1/2 mile wide. Damage in Rainsville included houses that were completely removed from foundations, with debris scattered for about one mile. Near this location, trees were debarked and a few mobile homes were completely destroyed, with debris strewn for about a mile downstream. In the Sylvania community, a similar situation occurred with houses completely removed from foundations and debris blown far downstream. Some of these houses were connected to their foundations with anchor bolts and foundation straps, indicating a stronger construction of the homes. For the purposes of further study, the National Weather service focused primarily on a narrow corridor of intense damage extending from Skaggs road to Lingerfeldt Road(also known as County Road 180) extending toward County Road 514. Along Skaggs Road, a stone house was completely obliterated with much of the interior debris strewn well away from the structure. A supporting large cement and stone pillar was ripped completely out of the ground. Another home along Skaggs Road was also leveled completely to the ground. The NOAA overflight showed significant ground scarring in this area and a walk through the nearby fields showed large pot marks and other sections of disturbed ground. Slightly northeast along Lingerfeldt Road, numerous homes were leveled completely to their foundation with vehicles and debris strewn for hundreds of feet. Overhead photos and follow-up visual confirmation revealed a mangled vehicle tossed well into a ravine and resting up in the remainder of trees. At1608 Lingerfeldt Road/CR 180 a large two story brick home was completely obliterated with several of the supporting anchors ripped out of the ground. A concrete porch was ripped off with pieces strewn up to 150 yards. A section of the asphalt driveway was pulled up. In addition, an anchored liberty safe weighing 800 pounds was pulled off its anchorage and thrown into a wooded area 600 feet away. When found, the safe`s door had been ripped open and completely off. A large pick-up truck at this residence was found mangled in pieces over 250 yards away in the same wooded area. The residents of the home survived in a nearby storm pit. Of note the storm pit was partially exposed by the tornado with dirt being sucked up and pulled away around the opening. Next door a mobile home was completely disintegrated. The residents of the mobile there also survived in a storm pit. This section of damage from Skaggs Road to Lingerfelt road near the intersection with Crow Lane was deemed to be EF-5 in intensity. It should also be noted that severe damage, near EF-5 in intensity was noted in a corridor from CR 515 through a neighborhood along County Road 441. In the east and south ends of the neighborhood, many one and two story homes were leveled to their foundation with debris scattered some distance. Several cars were thrown a large distance in this area. There was evidence of ground scarring as well as some sidewalk pavement pulled up in this location. However, some of the homes in this area appeared to be pushed off their foundation initially with limited anchorage. Thus, the damage was deemed high end EF-4 in this area.” There were 25 fatalities and an unknown number of injuries with this tornado.
This tornado was a regeneration of the Greene-Tuscaloosa-Jefferson County tornado. According to the NWS Birmingham, “The tornado strengthened rapidly to an EF-4 with winds of 170 mph, and caused extensive damage along Shoal Creek Rd, east of CR 26. At least 6 homes were destroyed, with only small interior rooms remaining. At least one home was swept clean from the foundation. Many mobile homes were also destroyed. In addition, tree damage was extensive in this area, with every tree left mangled. At least 14 fatalities occurred along Shoal Creek Rd. The path width increased to around 1 mile as the tornado approached Neely Henry Lake and the Calhoun County line. The tornado maintained a path along Shoal Creek Rd until it crossed the lake. The tornado crossed Neely Henry Lake and into Calhoun County at Eagle Cove Rd., northwest of Ohatchee. At this point, the tornado had winds of 180 mph, an EF-4 rating, and a path width of 1 mile. As the tornado crossed AL Hwy 77, numerous homes were leveled and mobile homes were demolished. Trees were left as stumps. Four fatalities occurred in this area. The tornado continued to cause extensive damage as it moved northeast crossing US Hwy 431 at Colwell and CR 23, where several homes and one church were destroyed. Four fatalities occurred in this area.” There were 22 deaths and 85 injuries caused by this tornado.
This tornado produced EF4 damage in Mississippi. In Alabama its maximum intensity was EF3. According to the NWS Mobile, “The tornado nearly paralleled CR32 as it moved east across the county (Choctaw) producing EF2 and sporadic EF3 damage.” One home received EF3 damage when its roof was taken off and the walls collapsed. Several mobile homes were completely destroyed.
According to the NWS Birmingham, “The tornado then moved into Tallapoosa County just south of County Road 34, where it widened to nearly 1/2 mile and strengthened to EF-4 intensity. Here the damage was the most widespread and severe with several well built multi-story homes totally destroyed with no walls remaining on floors above basement level. The tornado continued at this strength but became narrower to nearly 400 yards wide as it crossed Highway 49 just north of Jones Road where it destroyed 2 homes and rolled a pick-up truck 120 yards.” Seven people were killed and 30 were injured in this tornado.