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Breathtaking Birmingham Alabama Tornadoes: 1956, 1977, 1998, 2011

11 mins read
By pictureguy on Unlimphotos

While March was a busy month for Birmingham Alabama tornadoes, April holds the record for having the most tornadoes in the entire year. Because of the recent tornadoes, some have wondered if Tornado Alley should refer to the southeast instead.

While many people associate Tornado Alley with the region in the middle of the United States, Alabama is no stranger to storms. Most state residents are unsurprised by the high number of tornadoes that hit the area.

According to the National Weather Service, Birmingham Alabama tornadoes peak is in April. During one month alone, almost 550 tornadoes occurred between 1950 and 2020.

Furthermore, tornado spotting and reporting techniques have evolved significantly over the previous several decades, implying that we see more Birmingham Alabama tornadoes than occur.

Tornado Alley

Birmingham Alabama Tornadoes
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Tornado Alley is a nickname coined by the media to describe a large area in the central United States with a high frequency of tornadoes. Because tornado occurrence can be measured in various methods, such as all tornadoes, tornado county segments, powerful and severe tornadoes exclusively, and databases with varying periods, numerous Tornado Alley maps appear.

The concept of a tornado alley can, however, be misleading. The tornado threat in the United States shifts from the Southeast to the southern and central Plains in May and June and then to the northern Plains and Midwest in early July.

Tornadoes can happen anywhere, and they have been reported in all 50 states. Please keep in mind that powerful tornadoes do regularly occur outside of Tornado Alley. The southern Plains see their peak tornado season from May through early June.

Tornado season begins in June or July in the northern Plains and upper Midwest. Tornadoes can strike at any time or night, but the majority strike between 4 and 9 pm.

1. Tornado Watch Vs. Tornado Warning

Birmingham Alabama Tornadoes
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The NOAA Storm Prediction Center meteorologists, who monitor the weather 24/7 across the United States for weather conditions conducive to tornadoes and severe weather, issue a Tornado watch.

A watch can cover portions of a state or many states. Keep an eye out for severe weather and listen to NOAA Weather Radio for updates on alerts.

Your local NOAA National Weather Service Forecast Office meteorologists, who monitor the weather 24 hours a day, 7 days a week over a specific area, issue a Tornado warning.

This indicates that a tornado has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar and that those in the tornado’s path face a substantial hazard to their lives and property.

When a tornado warning is issued, you must act immediately to seek safe cover. A warning can encompass entire counties or multiple counties in the danger’s path.

2. McDonald Chapel Birmingham Alabama Tornadoes, 1956

Birmingham Alabama Tornadoes
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The 1956 McDonald Chapel tornado was a devastating weather event that struck the Greater Birmingham area of Jefferson County, Alabama, on the afternoon of April 15, 1956, causing the worst damage in McDonald Chapel.

The tornado, which was retroactively given an F4 rating on the Fujita scale, was not developed until 1971, killed 25 people, and injured 200 more.

On that day, only two known tornadoes touched down across the Southeastern United States, but the Birmingham tornado wreaked havoc on areas west and north of downtown Birmingham.

The tornado that struck Birmingham, Alabama, in 1956 was the deadliest storm of the year. The tornado began at its peak intensity. Several homes were entirely demolished in the neighborhood.

The 1956 tornado was the second deadliest tornado in Birmingham history, coming in second only to the 1998 tornado. The tornado had an F4 rating and was part of a modest but widespread outbreak at the same time.

2.1. National Weather Service Report

Storm warning
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On April 15, at 5:15 am CST, the National Weather Service office, the United States in Birmingham, Alabama, issued a bulletin warning of the possibility of a tornado or two affecting western Tennessee, northern Mississippi, and northern Alabama; specifically, Lauderdale, Limestone, Lawrence, Colbert, and Morgan Counties, as well as parts of Marion, Winston, Cullman, and Madison Counties.

According to an update issued at noon local time, the National Weather Service office further reported that between 1:00 to 7:00 pm CST, severe thunderstorms are expected over west-central Alabama. Hail and gusts up to 60 miles per hour were the most significant threats.

3. April 1977 Birmingham Alabama Tornadoes Outbreak

Birmingham Alabama Tornadoes
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A severe weather outbreak hit the Southeast from April 4 to 5, 1977. There were 21 tornadoes, with the strongest ones hitting Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

The most powerful was a devastating F5 tornado that slammed into the Northern Birmingham, Alabama suburbs on Monday, April 4, 1977, in the afternoon.

In the end, the outbreak resulted in 24 deaths and more than 200 injuries. Southern Airways Flight 242 crashed due to the storm system, killing 72 people and injuring 22 others.

3.1. Southern Airways Flight 242 Crash

Plane crash
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On April 4, the tornado storms also brought a massive squall line across Alabama. When Southern Airways Flight 242 attempted to fly around the storm and instead flew straight into it, it was a disaster.

The plane was pounded by big hail and severe rain, which wrecked the jet’s engines. It tried a landing on a section of roadway in New Hope, Georgia, since it couldn’t keep flying. The forced landing segment, once known as Georgia State Route 92 Spur, is now known as the Dallas Acworth Highway.

The DC-9 landed safely, but it collided with a gas station, a grocery store, and other structures and vehicles during the rollout. The flight crew, 60 passengers, and nine individuals on the ground were killed when the plane was destroyed.

4. April 1998 Birmingham Alabama Tornadoes Outbreak

Birmingham Alabama Tornadoes
Photo by Sergey Nivens from depositphotos

The April 6 to 9, 1998 tornado outbreak was a significant tornado outbreak that began on April 6 in the Great Plains and finished on April 9 in the Carolinas and Georgia. A total of 62 tornadoes touched down across the United States, from the Middle Atlantic to the Midwest and Texas.

The outbreak is remembered for spawning a devastating F5 virus that ravaged Birmingham’s suburbs, killing 32 people. That year, the Birmingham tornado was one of just two F5 tornadoes.

The other tornado struck on April 16 in Lawrence County, Tennessee, as part of the same outbreak as the Nashville F3 tornado. This tornado outbreak claimed the lives of 41 people, including 7 in Georgia and 34 in Alabama.

5. 2011 Tuscaloosa Birmingham Alabama Tornadoes

Birmingham Alabama Tornadoes
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During the late afternoon and early evening of April 27, 2011, a strong, high-end EF 4 multiple vortex tornado damaged portions of Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, Alabama, and smaller municipalities and rural areas between the two cities.

It’s one of the most expensive Birmingham Alabama tornadoes ever recorded. It was one of 360 tornadoes that hit the United States during the 2011 Super Outbreak, the largest tornado outbreak in US history.

During its route through Tuscaloosa and again when it crossed Interstate 65 north of Birmingham, the tornado had a maximum path width of 1.5 miles, with estimated winds of 190 mph shortly after passing through the city.

After that, it impacted portions of Birmingham with EF 4 intensity before the tornado weakened. This was the city of Tuscaloosa’s third tornado in the last decade and the second in two weeks.

The supercell created a vast wedge tornado in rural Greene County, Alabama, that tracked at EF 2 intensity towards neighboring Tuscaloosa County, uprooting a few more trees and causing modest structural damage.

5.1. Havoc Caused by The Birmingham Alabama Tornadoes

Tornado Aftermath
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At around 5:10 pm CDT, the Birmingham Alabama tornados rapidly intensified and moved towards Tuscaloosa’s southern and eastern parts. Due to power outages caused by wind damage to electrical transformers, the ABC 33/40 feed was occasionally disrupted.

As it approached the city, Skycam footage revealed that surface condensation in the tornado had lifted briefly outside of a visible debris cloud; a discernible wedge-shaped condensation funnel with occasional horizontal and vertical sub vortices then touched back down at the surface as it moved into neighborhoods.

The tornado made landfall as a low-end EF 4 in the southern part of Tuscaloosa, crossing 35th Street and entirely demolishing a mobile phone tower and several warehouses in an industrial sector.

It came within a half-mile of the Tuscaloosa Police Department headquarters, prompting dispatchers to evacuate their third-floor offices until the storm passed. At that exact moment, the Tuscaloosa County Emergency Management Office was hit directly and destroyed, along with most of their equipment and cars, although no one was hurt.

The tornado then smashed into the Rosedale and Forest Lake areas, destroying and sweeping away countless homes that were not properly anchored. Several apartment complexes and a few two-story apartment buildings were completely demolished in this neighborhood.

At low-end EF 4 strength, the tornado crossed 15th Street and McFarland Boulevard, utterly flattening multiple businesses and restaurants near the University Mall, while vehicles were hurled around or destroyed.

5.2. Birmingham Alabama Tornadoes Lifted Significant Damage

Tornado Aftermath
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Numerous block foundation homes in the adjoining Cedar Crest community were destroyed. As the Birmingham Alabama tornadoes swept through Alberta City, they leveled and swept away additional block foundation residences and entirely flattened two more apartment complexes and a shopping center along University Boulevard.

The Chastain Manor Apartments were demolished and partially washed away when the tornado exited the Alberta City neighborhood. The ruins of a well-anchored clubhouse on the site were mainly carried away.

An adjacent maintenance hole cover was dumped into a ravine after being removed from its drain. While still at low-end EF4 strength, the tornado developed from 0.5 miles to 1 mile wide and smashed into the suburb of Holt, leveling and sweeping away homes.

Every tree in this region was snapped, including those in steep ravines. A massive metal railroad bridge was torn apart as it crossed Hurricane Creek, and a 34-tonne metal truss support structure was tossed 100 feet up on a neighboring hill.

Several boats and a restaurant were wrecked at a marina on Holt Lake, and several boats were flung over 330 feet in this region. The Birmingham Alabama tornadoes left the Tuscaloosa region, dropped to EF3 strength, and shrank to.5 miles in diameter. Thousands of trees were felled, and more rural dwellings were flattened as they went through a deep forest near Birmingham.

As the tornado went over the rural villages of Searles and Mud Creek, some trees were entirely denuded and debarked. At the same time, debris from Tuscaloosa was recorded raining from the sky across Birmingham over 20 miles away in Jefferson County. In the Tuscaloosa area, a total of 44 persons were killed.

The Birmingham Alabama tornadoes event straddled the Bibb Shelby County line, about halfway between Woodstock and Maylene. It uprooted a few trees in northeast Bibb County before moving northeast and bringing down numerous trees before lifting south of County Road 13 in southwest Shelby County. There was no structural damage observed as the railway passed through forested areas.

5.3. National Weather Service Office

Storm
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The Storm Prediction Centre began monitoring the possibility of a significant severe Birmingham Alabama tornadoes outbreak in the extended region on April 23.

Moderate instability and significant wind shear ahead of a trailing cold front were forecast to favor the development of supercell thunderstorms capable of producing Birmingham Alabama tornadoes, massive hail, and damaging winds as a shortwave trough raced across sections of the Mid-South and the southeastern United States.

The SPC indicated a moderate risk of severe weather for central and eastern Kentucky, middle and eastern Tennessee, northeast Mississippi, central and northern Alabama, and northwest Georgia two days before the storm, on April 25.

There was relatively high confidence for powerful Birmingham Alabama tornadoes; a tornado rated EF2 or above on the Enhanced Fujita scale and widespread destructive winds across the defined area due to rich low-level moisture, intense shear, and focused significant scale ascent.

By the morning of April 27, the SPC had elevated to a high risk of severe weather, indicating the possibility of a dangerous Birmingham Alabama tornadoes outbreak capable of producing multiple intense EF4 tornadoes or more substantial on the Enhanced Fujita scale and long track Birmingham Alabama tornadoes.

For a region surrounding Tuscaloosa, the probability of Birmingham Alabama tornadoes within 25 miles of a site was elevated even more to 45 percent shortly before 12:00 CDT.

The chance of substantial or violent and very straight-line wind damage was emphasized again in the prediction, as confidence in the possibility of a severe, high-end Birmingham Alabama tornadoes outbreak grew even more.

The air mass across western and northern Alabama began to destabilize throughout the afternoon, with mixed layer convective potential energy estimates in 2500 to 4000 j/kg range and low-level dewpoints of 70 to 72 °F surging northward from Louisiana in the wake of an earlier mesoscale convective system rapidly.

Meanwhile, a mid-level jet jetted eastward into the vicinity, making the favorable wind shear situation. A particularly dangerous situation tornado watch was issued for much of Alabama, northwest Georgia, southeast Mississippi, and southern middle Tennessee at 1:45 pm CDT.

In Jackson, Mississippi, the National Weather Service office issued the first tornado warning on the supercell that would later generate the Tuscaloosa Birmingham tornado at 3:09 pm CDT shortly after.

6. Tornado Aftermath

Tornado Aftermath
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Since thunderstorms sometimes create tornadoes, there is usually significant rainfall after the tornado passes, even if there was no rain during the tornado itself.

Flooding is a grave danger. Broken limbs, glass, and other debris could litter the ground, posing additional dangers. Hail could also be a problem. Electricity lines are frequently downed, and gas lines may be leaking.

If the structure you’re seeking refuge in is damaged, there are visible electrical sparks, or a smell of gas or chemical fumes, cautiously exit the structure. Turn off the building’s gas, electricity, and water if possible. Do not return until the authorities have permitted you.

If the structure is not harmed and there is no sign of utility damage, look for any flammable liquid spills, such as bleach or cleaning fluid, and clean them upright once.

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7. Self-Rescue During Strong Birmingham Alabama Tornadoes

Tornado rescue
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Being prepared with the following items is the best way to keep safe during Birmingham Alabama tornadoes:

  • To listen to the newest emergency weather information, you’ll need fresh batteries and a battery-operated TV, radio, or internet-enabled gadget.
  • A tornado emergency plan for yourself, your family, persons with special needs, and your pets includes access to a safe shelter.
  • An emergency supply kit, including water, non-perishable food, and medication.
  • A list of crucial details, including phone numbers

Ensure your children understand what a tornado is, what tornado watches and warnings are, where they reside, and what qualifies a site as a safe refuge, whether at home or school.

Pay close attention to shifting weather conditions in your neighborhood to protect yourself and your loved ones from harm during a tornado.

If thunderstorms are forecast, listen to local radio and television stations and an NOAA weather radio station for more information.

Birmingham Alabama tornadoes can strike quickly, leaving no time for a warning. The following weather indicators may indicate the presence of a tornado:

  • A sky that is dark or green in color.
  • A low-lying cloud that is big and black.
  • Hailstorm
  • A loud rumble, similar to that of a freight train.

Take cover immediately if you detect any of these conditions, and keep connected to local radio and TV stations, an NOAA weather radio station, or the internet for updates.

During a tornado, most injuries and deaths are caused by falling and flying debris. Although no area is fully secure during a tornado, some are safer than others.

On the lowest floor, go to the basement or an inner room without windows, for example, the bathroom, closet, or center hallway. If at all possible, stay away from any room with windows.

Protect your head with whatever you can get your hands on. A blanket, sleeping bag, or mattress should be used to keep your body warm. Put yourself under a strong object for further protection, for example, a heavy table or workbench.

It would help if you did not stay in a mobile home. Find a nearby building, preferably with a basement, if you are outside or in a mobile home.

Instead, don’t try to outrun a tornado; seek shelter in the following sturdy structure.

Keep up with local weather information, especially when thunderstorms are anticipated because no one can predict the ferocity of a tornado before it hits.

Prepare your home and family in case a tornado strike. It’s easier to get to a shelter quickly when everyone knows where to go, whether at home or outside.

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8. Final Note

In short, the Birmingham Alabama tornadoes passed, causing significant and minor damage, destroying Clair County line and Shelby counties. Before the tornado dissipated from its respective location, it heavily damaged numerous homes.

The Northern portions suffered more uprooting tree limbs, causing roof damage and significant damage to light poles due to the Birmingham Alabama tornadoes. Experts assess the damage caused by a tornado to determine its strength. Tornado generation is thought to be primarily influenced by events on the storm scale, in and around the mesocyclone.

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