Black Monday

| April 6, 2008 @ 7:36 pm | 11 Replies

This week was the 31st anniversary of the deadly Smithfield Tornado that struck northern sections of Birmingham on April 4, 1977. I was a freshman at Huffman High School. I was overjoyed that Birmingham had gotten NOAA Weatheradio service the previous November. It was Christmas comes early when my mom took me to buy my Weatheradio at the Pizitz department store in Roebuck. Weather coverage 24/7. What a concept.

Weekend forecasts called for thunderstorms on Sunday and Monday, with the main activity scheduled for Monday. A big warm front moved through on Sunday with some very intense rainfall and strong storms, but nothing severe. Monday dawned cloudy and muggy with a strong southerly wind. It felt like tornado weather.

I took my Weatheradio to school. None of my teachers seemed to mind. The first wave of storms went through around noon causing quite a bit of lightning and some hail, but they passed without incident. But I believe it was J.B. Elliott or Jay Shelley working the Weatheradio. They cautioned that even stronger storms were moving into West Alabama and would affect Birmingham around 3 p.m.

As I took my place in my seventh period Alabama History class, I chose a desk in an unusual position: at the back window that looked to the west over the baseball field. A tornado warning was issued for Jefferson County, and I nervously kept an eye on the darkening sky to the west southwest.

At 3 p.m., the dismissal bell rang just as the rear flank doiwndraft struck the school. I made a beeline for the doors, but we could not push them open against rain and powerful wind. Then the tornado bell started sounding and teachers began to usher us downstairs.

I took a seat on the floor of a downstairs classroom and was joined by my Alabama History teacher. Mrs. Nabors was one of my favorite teachers. I told her about what I had heard on the radio. She said it wouldn’t turn out to be anything. Tragically, she lost family members in the horrible F5 tornado that killed 22 people, many of them in the Smithfield Estates subdivision.
When we finally dismissed and I made my way to my carpool, Mrs. Ann Little was listening to the radio. Leo Sayers, “When I Need You” was playing. I will always associate that song with that terrible day. J.B. or Jay Shelley were giving the latest storm reports, including cars being blown off I-65.

That same afternoon, a Southern Airways DC-9 crashed near New Hope, Georgia. The flight, bound to Atlanta from Huntsville had 82 people aboard. It penetrated a severe thunderstorm near Rome, Georgia. Hail ingestion caused the engines to fail. Sixty people on the plane and ine people on the ground died as the pilot crash landed the plane on a highway.

The next day’s Birmingham Post-Herald was headlined, “Black Monday.”

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About the Author ()

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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