Where Were You? A Look Back at the 1989 Airport Road Tornado


HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Today marks the 23rd anniversary of the 1989 Airport Road tornado, one of the deadliest tornadoes in Huntsville’s history.  The tornado touched down southwest of Huntsville and tracked northeast causing heavy damage along Airport Road and the Jones Valley area.

After the damage was assessed, the tornado was rated an F4.  It killed 21 people, injured 463 and caused approximately $250 million in damage. Below is a more detailed description of the tornado’s path, courtesy of the National Weather Service in Huntsville:

“Around 4:30 pm on Wednesday, November 15, 1989, a tornado touched down near Madkin Mountain on Redstone Arsenal, southwest of Huntsville. The tornado moved northeast towards the heavily-populated Airport Road area, where it would destroy or damage 80 businesses, 3 churches, a dozen apartment buildings, and more than 1,000 cars. It moved on, climbing over Garth Mountain, demolishing Jones Valley Elementary School, and destroying 259 homes in the Jones Valley area. The tornado then moved out into eastern Madison County, where it damaged the equipment and maintenance headquarters of Commission District 2 as well as a state forestry office, destroyed 3 more homes, a volunteer fire department, several barns and sheds, and numerous electrical towers.”

Below shows the path the devastating tornado took.

Below is an aerial photograph showing some of the damage that occurred. The road going diagonally from lower right to top middle is Airport Road.

Below is a picture of portions of the Waterford Square Apartment Complex that were completely destroyed by the tornado.

Due to the large response on Facebook of viewers sharing their stories of this terrible day and we wanted to share some of them below.  Many were very young, but remember stories being told about it from their parents or grandparents.  We will always keep those who lost their lives, were injured, or impacted by the Airport Road Tornado always in our thoughts and prayers.

“I lost one of my best friends from high school that day. We still remember you with love, Vanessa Dawn Hastings-Pool.” – Phil Goglin

“I was in the 3rd grade at the then new Challenger Elementary school, my dad picked me up around 4 pm and we were shopping at the old Bruno’s store on bailey cove rd and was standing in the checkout line when the power went out. I remember the sky was purple with each lighting strike. I remember later that night after it was over it started sleeting.”  – Patrick Livingston

“I was suppose to go to work at The jewelry store golbro. The one of the sweetest ladies I had ever known was killed. But I know in my heart God told me to stay at home with my 2 small children. Thank goodness I listened.” – Teresa Vann Green

“I was six years old. We lived on 4th st. In west Huntsville… Me and my mom where in her bedroom closet…” – Shelly Harris

“I remember that day, I was so dark at around 4:30 in the afternoon, I was home alone and my mom worked at Jones Valley school, I was calling her at work at the same time the tornado was crushing our new car and devouring the front office were she was taking refuge under a desk!!!! Scariest day I thought my mom was gone til she called me boy it was a great relief!!!” – Aisha Burwell Snodgrass

“I lived in Huntsville near the old Airport and remember seeing the tornado going across our storm shelter though the vent pipe. I remember praying that it did not hit the hospital.” – Kandace D. Butler

“I live in Paint Rock Valley and was around the age of 6 but I remember that we found trash coins and part of a Airport Rd sign in our yard” – Jennie Hopper

“I was in The Alabama National Guard(1343rd Engineer Batallion out of Athens)at the time & I remember we had to go over & be security & help with clean-up a day or two after it happened & while I was there I remember thinking to myself that I knew tornadoes were bad & could do some destruction but I never imagined one could do the things that I saw,it made me have a whole new respect for tornadoes from that time on.” – David Hill


Below are some more pictures of the damage taken the day after the tornado struck (November 16th, 1989) from the National Weather Service in Huntsville.

– Jennifer Watson

Twitter: @JWatson_Wx

Facebook: Jennifer Watson WHNT