The Huntsville Tornado

| November 15, 2009 @ 9:00 am | 2 Replies

As a line of severe thunderstorms moved eastward from the Central to Eastern United States during the afternoon of November 15th, a powerful tornado touched down southwest of Huntsville at 430 PM CST and plowed through a busy business and residential area in the southern part of the city.

The F4 tornado had winds between 207 and 260 mph. It killed 21 people and injured 463. Twelve of the 21 fatalities occurred in automobiles as many persons were homeward bound during the afternoon rush hour. Tragically, many motorists were caught on congested streets and highways in the nearly pitch black conditions of the on-rushing storm. Undoubtedly, many never saw the tornado, making escape virtually impossible with such little time to react.

The damage path was 18.5 miles long and ½-mile wide. Total damage was around 100 million dollars. The tornado struck Jones Valley Elementary School on Garth Road. Thirty-seven children, five teachers, and seven painters were in the school when the tornado struck. The children were part of an Extended Daycare Program conducted at the school. The lead teacher of the day-care program moved the children from the second floor of the school building into a small open area under the stairway on the first floor. This action, first suggested by the school principal as she left for the day, saved the lives of the children. The painters reportedly actually shielded the children with their bodies as the tornado struck.

Following the tornado, temperatures dropped quickly, and late night news reports showed snow showers falling around the terrible damage.

It is interesting to note that there was no tornado warning in effect for the first 15 minutes of the tornado’s onslaught. This event was before Doppler radar systems were installed in Alabama, and the NWS office in Huntsville did not know a tornado was down. The warning was issued only after the damage reports had been received. It is amazing to see how much the warning process has improved since this killer storm twenty years ago.

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Bill Murray is the President of The Weather Factory. He is the site's official weather historian and a weekend forecaster. He also anchors the site's severe weather coverage. Bill Murray is the proud holder of National Weather Association Digital Seal #0001 @wxhistorian

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