On This Date In 1977…

| April 4, 2013 @ 5:58 am

SMITHFIELD TORNADO: The tornado began around 3 pm CST, 4 miles northwest of Birmingham near U.S. Highway 78, and then traveled northeast for 15 miles at 60 mph, crossing Interstate 65. At it’s widest point, the tornado was 3/4 of a mile wide. Over 150 homes were damaged with almost 50 completely destroyed. A total of 22 people were killed with over 130 injured. This one storm alone caused over $25 million in damage ($83 million in today dollars). Daniel Payne College near U.S. Highway 78 sustained heavy damage from this massive tornado with estimates over $1 million dollars. The college, opened in 1880, later closed its doors in 1977, likely a result of the enormous cost and amount of damage. There were six other tornadoes on this day including five F2 tornadoes and an F3 tornado across North and Central Alabama.

Timely tornado warnings provided by the National Weather Service allowed people to take necessary action well ahead of the approaching storm. The new NOAA Weather Radio program played a huge role in the process. Warnings were broadcast live on the Birmingham KIH-54 transmitter which was just implemented five months prior to this event.

Many people do not know that the famous Dr. Theodore Fujita, for whom the Tornado Fujita Intensity Scale is named after, followed this massive tornado and supercell thunderstorm from an airplane. After tracking the storm, Dr. Fujita surveyed the damage and toyed with the idea of rating the Smithfield tornado an F6. (thanks to the Birmingham NWS for this summary).

Our own J.B. Elliott took many, many damage pictures for the National Weather Service…



This story was produced by ABC 33/40 back in the 90s (thanks to Mike Wilhelm for putting this up on YouTube)

See more pictures and meteorological data from the event here from the NWS Birmingham.

PASSENGER JET DISASTER: The same thunderstorm complex was responsible for the crash of Southern Airways Flight 242 in Georgia; it was a flight from Huntsville to Atlanta. The passenger jet went down after suffering hail damage and losing thrust on both engines; Sixty-three people on the aircraft (including the flight crew) and nine people on the ground died; twenty passengers survived, as well as the two flight attendants. One of the initial survivors succumbed to his injuries several weeks later.


Category: Met 101/Weather History

About the Author ()

James Spann is one of the most recognized and trusted television meteorologists in the industry. He holds the AMS CCM designation and television seals from the AMS and NWA. He is a past winner of the Broadcast Meteorologist of the Year from both professional organizations.

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