Alabama’s Deadliest Tornado Day

| March 20, 2010 @ 10:20 pm | 5 Replies

When we think of major tornado outbreaks in Alabama, we instantly think of some of the big ones in the last fifty years. April 3,1974 always comes to mind. The Veterans’ Day outbreak in 2002. Perhaps Super Tuesday a couple of years ago. The Palm Sunday outbreak in 1994. The Oak Grove Tornado in 1998. Maybe Centreville/Brent and Centerpoint in 1973. What about the Huntsville Tornado?

But the deadliest tornado outbreak in Alabama history occurred on March 21, 1932. On that day, at least ten terrible tornadoes roared from the sky in two waves across the state. When daybreak arrived the following day, at least 315 Alabamians lay dead. One of the worst tornadoes of the day struck the town of Northport, just across the Warrior River from Tuscaloosa. Here is a Birmingham Age-Herald article about that storm from the morning of the 22nd.


Sweeping Twister like Wall of Flame Hits Town on Warrior

NORTHPORT, Ala,. March 21 – A twister which swooped down from the leaden skies upon t he western fringe of Tuscaloosa and veered sharply across the Warrior River to cut a wide swath of death and destruction in Northport was described by excited survivors here Monday night as resembling “a huge ball of fire encircled by dense smoke.”

The blast, they said, sounded like the screeching of a swiftly moving locomotive being ground to a sudden stop. Hours after the full effect of the equinoctial disaster had been felt here, Northport was in complete disorder, survivors striving bravely to care for the needs of the injured. Many were still searching well into the night for friends and relatives who had not been accounted for.

The tornado, according to eye-witnesses, struck Tuscaloosa a glancing blow, and is reported to have reduced the handsome country club building to ruins. From Tuscaloosa, the twister sagged across the Warrior River, near the north side of the Warrior Bridge, where a filling station, several sandwich shops and a cotton gin operated by Barnes & Norris were leveled. From there the storm skirted the east side of Northport, where most of the deal and injured were struck. Early estimates were that filly 100 houses were uprooted and scattered to bits over a wide area as the twister swept East Northport and passed on with the full effect centering on Watermelon Road. Although houses on this road are not built closely to each other, reports were that not a one on either side of the thoroughfare was left standing.

The storm passed on out Watermelon Road and finally lifted at a point about four miles from the river bridge. A momentary lull followed the first onslaught and was followed by frequent gales and a blinding rain which continued well in the night in the Northport and Tuscaloosa areas. Fires added to the abject confusion which followed the disaster, many of the remaining structures near the center of the storm’s path being destroyed or damaged by blazes.

The photos were provided by Jean Butterworth. She says: “I am sending two picture taken by my mother, of the scene after the tornado. My mother, Ara Williams Champion took these pictures with a Kodak box camera. In one of the pictures you can see the bridge over the Black Warrior River. Mother was 22 years old at the time and had graduated form the Bryce Hospital School of Nursing as a registered Nurse. She related to me that she went to the Foster Auditorium on UA Campus, which was a triage area and helped with the casualties.”

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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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