Thursday, April 27 will mark the 12-year anniversary of the deadliest tornado outbreak here in the Tennessee Valley. Many have stated this event is a once-in-a-generation event and can be compared to the violent tornado outbreak of 1974.
The violent tornado outbreak on April 3, 1974 and April 27, 2011, remain two of the deadliest tornado outbreaks in our area. When looking at the similarities between the two events, there were multiple long-track violent tornadoes, EF4/F4 and EF5/F5. Both events observed three EF5/F5 tornadoes, but one difference is that the April 27th event saw one more EF4/F4 than in 1974.
Some of the major differences would be the number of tornadoes and the severe weather event itself. The event we saw 12 years ago came in three distinct rounds while in 1974 there was just one round of storms in the afternoon and evening. On April 27, 2011, the area also saw nearly four times as many tornadoes track through the region compared to the outbreak in 1974.
April 3rd, 1974 Event:
Of the 10 tornadoes that touched down during this event, five were extremely intense and long-lived F4 and F5 tornadoes. Of the five violent tornadoes that day, three had a F5 rating, meaning winds ranging from 261 to 318 mph.
News 19’s Greg Screws recounts 1974 Tornado Outbreak
Above is a look at the estimated tracks of these tornadoes across the Tennessee Valley. Limestone and Madison Counties experienced the worst damage from the F5 tornadoes that day.
Some of the communities hit the hardest were Athens, Tanner, Harvest, Toney, Madison and Hazel Green. It was these locations that felt the force of a F5 tornado. Many structures were destroyed and some homes were ripped from their foundations.
April 27th, 2011 Event:
North Alabama saw three rounds of severe weather on April 27 that led to destructive tornadoes tracking through the region. During the morning and midday hours, squall lines tracked eastward, but it was the afternoon supercells that produced the violent tornadoes.
A squall line, or line of thunderstorms, organized over Mississippi and moved into Alabama early that morning. More than 75 tornadoes occurred, five of them EF-3 intensity. By midday, another squall line moved through North Alabama.
Seven weaker tornadoes were observed in north-central Alabama. Significant power outages occurred across our region due to the first two rounds of severe storms
The most violent tornadoes formed from rotating supercells that afternoon and evening. Seven violent tornadoes produced catastrophic damage that day; four of those were an EF4 and three were an EF5. One destructive EF5 tornado ripped through multiple counties in both North Alabama and Southern Middle Tennessee. The worst damage associated with this tornado was near the Hackleburg and Phil Campbell communities. This is where damage associated with 210 mph winds was found.
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