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Category: Weather History

Alabama’s Deadliest 1991 Tornado was an F1

| 12:14 pm March 29, 2014
From The Tuscaloosa News

From The Tuscaloosa News

Hoyt Watts awakened around 5:35 a.m. on the morning of March 29, 1991 in his home on Highway 21 in Mumford in Talladega County.  It was storming outside.  Storming bad.  The wind was roaring loudly and lightning was flashing as thunder sounded continuously.  He looked out the window and could not believe his eyes.  A mobile home was flying through the air.  Airborne.  Sixty or seventy feet in the air.  As he watched in shock, the trailer home exploded in midair.

It was the mobile home of his son Ronnie.  He dressed frantically and rushed to search for his son and his family.  Ronnie’s wife Lisa and their sons had been at home.

They found Lisa dead, blown about 75 yards, with her one of the children in her arms.  Over a quarter of a mile away, they found Ronnie’s body with the remains of the mobile home.  The other son was critically injured, but died later.

How could it have happened?  Ronnie knew that mobile homes were vulnerable to high winds.  He had taken extra care to tie down their home with steel straps, as was the recommendation.  But the tornado snapped those straps and sent the trailer flying like a crumpled ball of aluminum foil.

Four people died in this one home.  A fifth person died in another mobile home.

When the National Weather Service did the storm survey, it was hard to imagine this would turn out to be the deadliest tornado of the year in Alabama.  The tornado was only on the ground for one mile and had a path width of just 300 feet.  But it found eight mobile homes with deadly accuracy.  In addition to the five fatalities, there were 13 injuries. 

Perhaps the most amazing fact was that the tornado only attained an F1 ranking.  This serves as a powerful reminder that even small, weak tornadoes can kill…

Twenty Years Ago Today…

| 6:18 am March 27, 2014

A series of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes moved across Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. These storms accounted for injuries to at least 422 persons, including 47 fatalities. Here in our state, the biggest tragedy was an EF-4 tornado that destroyed the Goshen United Methodist Church building during the morning worship service. Twenty people died inside the church, all part of an Easter drama that was in progress that Palm Sunday morning. Ten of those who died were children, including four year old Hannah Clem, the daughter of Pastor Kelly Clem.

A tornado warning was issued 12 minutes before the church was hit, but they never heard the warning. Another reminder that every church in Alabama must have a NOAA Weather Radio.

Below is a special put together ten years ago by Bill Castle of ABC 33/40 that looks back at this horrible day.

1941: One of America’s Greatest Blizzards

| 10:00 am March 15, 2014

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Many people were enjoying a Saturday night out on the town on this date in 1941. It was a chance to get away from the ominous news out of Europe. Nazi planes were again bombing England. The Brits had landed 100,000 troops in Greece. President Franklin Roosevelt was speaking to the nation that evening at 6:30 p.m. in one of his Fireside Chats about providing $7 billion to aid the Allies.

The weather forecast for Bismarck, North Dakota was for snow and colder overnight with a predicted low of 10F. But a forecast of snow is unremarkable in that part of the country. Snow doesn’t faze them. But there was much more than snow in the offing. It would be one of the greatest blizzards in American history.

Across North Dakota and Minnesota, temperatures dropped 20 degrees in fifteen minutes in many places as arctic air moved in. The fast moving storm brought 50 mph sustained winds to a wide area and 85 mph wind gusts were recorded in Grand Forks. White out conditions were recorded as what would be known as the “Ides of March Blizzard” raged.

The high winds blew the snow into seven foot high snow drifts. Some twelve foot drifts were recorded in North Central Minnesota.

The powerful low pressure system early on the morning of 16 March 1941.

The powerful low pressure system early on the morning of 16 March 1941.

Thirty nine people died in North Dakota alone with another thirty two perishing in Minnesota, making it one of the deadliest storms on record in the region. A total of 151 people died in the storm.

Changes in how the U.S. Weather Bureau handled forecasts came about as a result of the storm. Critics rightfully claimed that forecasters in Chicago were more concerned about their local conditions than they there were about those in areas that were impacted by the storm. As a result, local offices were given more autonomy in issuing warnings.

The 1998 Elba Flood

| 9:30 am March 8, 2014

On this date in 1998, three days of heavy rain sent floodwaters from Beaver Dam Creek churning through the small South Alabama town of Elba as a levee gave way.

2,000 of the town’s 4,000 residents had to evacuate as the downtown area was under 6 feet of water.

Very cold weather would follow the flooding just three days later with temperatures in the area dropping into the middle 20s.

Five people died across South Alabama from the flooding.

It was the third flood in the small town in 8 years. In 1990, the town was inundated when a levee on the Pea River broke, with only rooftops poking through a sea of floodwaters. The Corps of Engineers reinforced that levee after the 1990 flood.

The 1998 flood happened suddenly with little warning, so even though the flood crest was less than during the 1990 flood, the 1998 flood caused more damage. With more warning in the 1990 flood, people had time to move their belongings to higher ground.

Of course, Elba was certainly no stranger to floods. In 1865, a flood shortly after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln destroyed the town. On March 15, 1929, the Pea River crested at 43.5 feet. Airplanes had to be employed to drop supplies to the marooned town. Other floods occurred in 1938, 1959 and 1975.

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On This Date in 2012

| 1:30 pm March 2, 2014

Back on this date in 2012, Alabama was included in a Moderate Risk severe weather outlook from the Storm Prediction Center. Parts of Tennessee, Kentucky and southern Indiana were in a rare high risk, as JB noted in this morning post.

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The risks were pretty spot on. Here are the severe weather reports from March 2nd.

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Shortly after JB wrote that post, tornadoes were on the ground in North Alabama, doing damage.

Morning supercells spawned six tornadoes across Limestone and Madison Counties. One followed a similar path to one of the deadliest tornadoes on April 27, 2011. In the Huntsville area, two tornadoes, including an EF2 and an EF1, damaged or destroyed 200 homes, a maximum security state prison and a high school.

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When the outbreak was over the next day, an outbreak across the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys produced 70 tornadoes and and killed 41 people. Hardest hit was Kentucky, where 22 died. Thirteen died in Indiana, four in Ohio and one each in Alabama and Georgia.

The town of West Liberty, Kentucky, which was nearly destroyed. The town of Marysville, IN was completely destroyed and Henryville, IN, the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Harlan Sanders, was heavily damaged. The Henryville tornado was rated as an EF-4.

New York City Snowfall Notes

| 9:30 am March 2, 2014

New York City’s Central Park has only experienced four winter seasons with 60 or more inches of snow.

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It was on this date in 1996 that the station established a new single season snowfall record when 4.6 inches of snow brought the total to 66.3 inches. This surpassed the old record of 63.2 inches set in 1847-48. Eventually, the season would total 75.6”.

1995-96 75.6”
1947-48 66.3”
2010-11 61.9”
1922-23 60.4”
2013-14 57.3”

As you can see, this year is in hot pursuit, sitting in fifth position.

The current storm is projected to bring 4-8 inches of snow to the Big Apple tonight and Monday, so this year is certain to make the short list five. There is a good shot that this winter will make the top two or three. It looks like the top position is safe, but a rogue late season storm isn’t out of the question.

March has produced at least eight snowstorms in history of seventeen inches or more. And a snowstorm in April is not outside the realm of possibility.

Birmingham’s Longest Snowless Streak

| 3:30 pm March 1, 2014

March came in like a lion across the South on this date in 2009 as a strong upper low spread snow across Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama. After dumping over a foot of snow on western Tennessee on Saturday night, snow moved into Alabama during the early morning hours on the 1st. One to two inch amounts were common, with several amounts in the three to five inch range. The snow moved into Georgia, bringing heavy snow to the Atlanta area.

There was some confusion about whether it marked the end of an amazing snowless streak at Birmingham’s official reporting station, the Shuttlesworth – Birmingham International Airport, where two inches of snow fell. A cursory review of the records indicated that it put an end to a streak that had lasted over nine years. Even the State Climatologist’s online records indicated it had not snowed since January 28, 2000. It was going to go into the record books as a 3,319 day streak.

But not so fast my friend, as Coach Lee Corso likes to say.

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The official records at the National Climate Data Center showed that It had snowed 0.1 inches at the Airport on March 8, 2008. So the counters were reset to that date instead. While the streak was not quite as long as it could have been, it still was by far the longest in the city’s history.

While the streak was a year shorter than earlier thought, Birmingham residents were generally thankful for the snow they got.

Birmingham’s longest snowless streaks

1. 2961 days 1/28/2000 until 3/7/2008
2. 2225 days 2/1/1951 until 3/6/1957
3. 1769 days 2/13/1905 until 12/18/1909
4. 1387 days 2/13/1971 until 12/1/1974
5. 1137 days 1/5/1919 until 2/15/1922
6. 1069 days 2/23/1901 until 1/28/1904

On This Date in 2007

| 1:30 am March 1, 2014

March roared in like a lion on this date in 2007 across the Deep South as a powerful storm system triggered an outbreak of 56 tornadoes from Missouri and Illinois into Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and northern Florida. A total of twenty people died in the storms, including 10 in Alabama. Five of the tornadoes were rated as EF-3 or EF-4.

The outbreak actually began on the 28th of February in Kansas, where an EF4 tornado was reported.

Doppler radar image of the Enterprise Tornado.

Doppler radar image of the Enterprise Tornado.

By far, the worst damage and majority of fatalities came from South Alabama and Southwest Georgia. An EF4 tornado struck a high school in Enterprise, Alabama around 1:10 p.m. Eight students and another man died in the tragedy. The fatalities occurred when a concrete wall collapsed on a group of students huddled in a hallway at the school. A controversy arose as national media outlets questioned whether school administrators should have dismissed school early, but nearly all local residents supported the decision to keep students at school.

A high risk outlook was issued early that morning and a PDS (Particularly Dangerous Situation) tornado watch was issued hours in advance. The National Weather Service Tallahassee issued a tornado warning a full eight minutes before the tornado struck the school.

Another devastating tornado struck the Millers Ferry area in Wilcox County here in Alabama, killing one man. That tornado also was rated as an EF4.

Just before 9:30 p.m., another tornado caused significant damage in Americus, Georgia. A hospital in Americus was heavily damaged.

A deadly tornado put an exclamation point on the day when it struck a mobile home community just north of Baker in Baker County, Georgia. Six people died in this twister, that occurred just before midnight.

The outbreak continued into the early morning hours of the 2nd in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida.

Here in our state, Alabama, other tornadoes touched down near Adamsville, in northern Tuscaloosa County near Samantha, in Arley in Winston County and in Fayette County. Twisters were also reported near Alabaster and in Lowndes and Montgeomery Counties.

After the outbreak, the tornado toll for the year across the United States stood at 43. That was the deadliest total observed in any year through March 1. Only 1949 was deadlier, when a deadly tornado struck Warren, AR in January killing 49.

So far this year in 2014, the death toll from tornadoes in the United States: zero.