Thursday, April 20, 2017

April 20, 1920 Tornado Outbreak

Three tornadoes, all considered to be consistent with F4 intensity, struck northwestern and north-central portions of Alabama on Tuesday morning and early afternoon April 20, 1920, killing 92 and injuring approximately 450 people.  These were long track tornadoes that may have reached F5 intensity at some point, but we will never know that with certainty. These numbers are inexact due to conflicting reports and limited information. 

Because of limitations in resources and technology in 1920, the exact number, path length and width, and intensities of the tornadoes is uncertain.  It is quite possible that there were more tornadoes that day which may have been of lesser intensity over rural areas.  It is also possible that the paths shown in the map above may have been broken in more places than shown.  It does appear though that two tornadic supercells moved parallel to one another from southwest to northeast during the morning of April 20, 1920 in northwestern Alabama.  These tornadoes were part of a larger outbreak that affected the states of Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi, and South Carolina between April 19th and 21st. One of the tornadoes in Alabama was a continuation of a tornado path from Mississippi.

April 22, 1920 Montgomery Advertiser

Tornado Number One (Marion, Franklin, Colbert and Lawrence Counties):

The first tornado left Mississippi and entered Marion County, Alabama around 9:30 a.m.  In Marion County, 20 people were killed and at least 200 were injured.  Nine were killed south of the Bexar community.  The tornado then entered Franklin County where the hardest hit community was Waco, which was "no more" at the time according to the Florence Times.  According to the April 29, 1920 Tuscaloosa News, Alabama Governor Thomas Kilby's office listed 19 as dead and 92 injured in Franklin County.  All nineteen deaths in Franklin were reported near the Waco Quarry, with nine of them being in a single family. Leaving Franklin, the twister continued into southeast Colbert County in the Mehama community south of Leighton. Mehama was reportedly "wiped out" and four people were killed there.  As the tornado moved into Lawrence County the intensity decreased, but one person died southeast of Town Creek.  It is unclear whether the tornado may have continued at a lower intensity as it crossed the Tennessee River into Limestone County. 

The April 21st edition of the Montgomery Advertiser reported,

"The dead and injured were brought into Hamilton and the courthouse has been converted into a temporary hospital.  Men and women of Hamilton...have worked heroically all day and far into the night to give such relief as they could.....Most of the dead brought here were terribly mangled.  Arms and legs in many cases had been blown completely off....dead cattle, horses, and mules are found everywhere."

Tornado Number Two (Fayette, Walker, Winston, Cullman, and Morgan Counties):

The second tornado developed in extreme northeast Fayette County and strengthened rapidly as it moved into Walker County.  Hardest hit communities in Walker County included Saragossa, Pocahontas, and Fall City.  The Union Hill Church 12 miles north of Jasper was destroyed.  The tornado then entered Winston County, affecting the communities of Arley and Helicon, where at least 19 people were killed. Helicon was said to be "completely demolished".  The tornado then moved through northwestern Cullman County into southern Morgan County near the Wilhite community around Noon.  In all, at least 21 were killed in this tornado.  This tornado seems to have ended over Morgan County as the storm moved toward Madison County.

Amazingly, five children in Walker County who were unattended found shelter in a storm cellar just before the tornado struck.  "Not a stick remained" from the home they left as the tornado approached, according to the Montgomery Advertiser:

Montgomery Advertiser April 22, 1920

According to the April 1920 edition of the Monthly Weather Review, "near Wilhite in southern Morgan County the cloud was black with a yellowish tinge.  Many farm animals were moved from one farm to another, feathers were blown off chickens, and a pump was pulled out of a well and broken into two parts."

Tornado Number Three (Madison County):

The same storm that produced tornado number two produced a tornado that touched down in the vicinity of the Tennessee River as the storm entered Madison County.  The death toll in Madison County was at least 27 and over 100 were injured.  Hardest hit communities included Green Cove, Lily Flag, Southeast Huntsville, and the Brownsboro-Gurley area. 

According to Huntsville Postmaster R.L. Okal, "I met a Mr. L.W. Baily... who said the great, black, whirling cloud...was small at the bottom and great at the top; that as it approached nearer all other clouds in the sky appeared to dash toward it and were swallowed up." 

In researching this post I came across a blog post with photographs from 1920 from a descendant of tornado survivors from Marion County.  You can view that blog post here. 

Montgomery Advertiser
Birmingham Age-Herald
Tuscaloosa News
Florence Times
NOAA Monthly Weather Review
NWS Birmingham Tornado Database

Mike Wilhelm
Bamawx on Facebook
@bamawx on Twitter

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Georgia Dome Tornado - 3/14/2008

As my sons David, Joe, Matt and I were watching the Alabama versus Mississippi State basketball game during the SEC Tournament a tornado struck the Georgia Dome during overtime.

The first thing I noticed was the satellite transmission was getting snowy. Then it became apparent that something might be going wrong as the picture got worse. My first thought was that there might be an earthquake. Then the announcer said that he was hearing a roar. The beams started shaking and debris started flying. Then he said that they were under a warning.

I remembered a thunderstorm that developed over Northwest Alabama, to the northeast of Decatur around 3:00 p.m. The storm development was impressive despite the limited upper air support. I think that same isolated storm is what eventually became an apparent tornado that struck the Georgia dome.

This is what we saw:

Coverage by Tider Insider TV. When the EF2 tornado hit, a SEC tournament game between Mississippi State and Alabama which had just been sent into overtime minutes earlier by a shot from Mykal Riley, was in progress at the Georgia Dome. The storm ripped panels from the exterior of the building and tore at least two holes in the roof of the Dome, causing insulation to fall and the scoreboard and catwalks suspended from the roof to sway. Mykal Riley's shot was considered to have saved lives by keeping people safe inside the Georgia Dome. After a 64-minute delay, the game was completed. 

My original video was the most favorited video of March 15, 2008 in the news category.

Here is a link to an amazing photograph of this tornado, which has been officially rated as an EF2 by the Peachtree City NWS office.

Monday, March 13, 2017

24th Anniversary of Blizzard of 1993

Updated to include videos of coverage by James Spann, Kevin Collins, and Dan Satterfield on WBRC 6 in Birmingham. Scroll down to the bottom of the post.

None of us who are old enough to remember the blizzard of March 12-15, 1993 will soon forget it. This storm shattered snow records and caused amazing weather events from Canada to Central America.

I will focus mainly on the extreme weather Alabamians witnessed. According to the NWS Birmingham, all time Birmingham snow records include:
MAXIMUM in 24 hours 13.0 inches March 1993
MAXIMUM in a single storm 13.0 inches March 1993
MAXIMUM in a single month 13.0 inches March 1993
MAXIMUM in a single season 13.0 inches 1992-93

Photo in Aroney, AL, on DeKalb, Etowah county Line, by Tony Bearden, 18" of snow with four foot drifts!

Below is a clip of the home video I made of the snow that fell in Huntsville, Alabama March 12 & 13, 1993. Huntsville "only" received seven inches from the storm. However snowfall amounts of greater than one foot were common, especially from Birmingham to the east and northeast. The town of Walnut Grove, Alabama, actually received 20" of snow!

All of Alabama was covered in snow. Mobile received 3". The highest total reported in Alabama was at Walnut Grove near the Blount-Etowah county line. Red Mountain in Birmingham recorded hurricane force winds according to meteorologist James Spann. Thundersnow was reported all across the state, from Huntsville to Mobile.
Here is a list of Alabama snow totals posted originally by J.B. Elliott:

20 inches at Walnut Grove
17 inches in Valley Head
16 inches in Oneonta and Bessemer
13 inches at Anniston, Talladega, Pinson and Birmingham Airport
12 inches at Thomasville, Childersburg and Scottsboro
11 inches at Sylacauga
10 inches at Cullman, Clanton and Heflin
9 inches at Thorsby
8 inches at Ashland, Centreville, Moulton and Guntersville
7 inches at Alexander City, Huntsville and Whatley
6 inches at Camden, Evergreen, Jasper, Livingston, Andalusia, Haleyville and Highland Home
5 inches at Auburn, Winfield, Muscle Shoals and Chatham
4 inches at Montgomery, Union Springs, Vernon, Tuscaloosa, Demopolis, Frisco City, Greenville, Troy
3 inches at Brewton, Hamilton, Bay Minette and Mobile Airport
2 inches at Atmore and Robertsdale
Trace at Coden and Fairhope

Here are some great links:  A Storm to Always Remember J.B. Elliott 2008

Pictures from the 1993 Blizzard James Spann 2008

Anyone Remember the Blizzard of 1993 James Spann 2008

15th Anniversary of the "Blizzard of '93" Thread on 

Meteorologist James Spann's account of the storm.

James Spann posted some really cool viewer photos and stories from the storm.

Remembering the "Blizzard of 1993" NWS Birmingham

The Blizzard of 1993 WBHM FM 90.3 Birmingham

Photos WBHM FM 90.3 Birmingham

Listen to the feature story commemorating the Blizzard of 1993 WBHM FM 90.3 Birmingham

Steve Chiotakis remembers forecast and broadcast challenges WBHM FM 90.3 Birmingham

Superstorm 1993 - A Case Study

Wikipedia Storm of the Century (1993)

The Historic American Engineering Record was surveying Birmingham historic sites when the storm occurred. They took the following pictures in downtown Birmingham and in Southside. Photo 1 Photo 2 Photo 3


The video below is part one of the historic "Storm of the Century" or "Blizzard of 1993" in Alabama. These clips are in chronological order.

This clip begins on Friday morning March 12, 1993 with meteorologist Dan Satterfield as the precipitation was entering Alabama.

This clip ends just after 10 p.m. when Kevin Collins says that several inches have accumulated on secondary roads.

It includes updates that were provided throughout the evening by meteorologist James Spann, Kevin Collins, and news updates at the end of the clip by Brenda Ladun.

Below is part two of the historic "Storm of the Century" or "Blizzard of 1993" in Alabama.

During this clip, which was recorded between 10:15 p.m. and midnight, wind gusts were 37 and increased to 41 just before midnight as the storm officially became a blizzard. Thundersnow was reported for the first time around 11 p.m. Thundersnow was also reported in Huntsville and Mobile at the same time. Kevin Collins reported 4-6" of snow just before midnight.

Meteorologist James Spann and Kevin Collins of WBRC 6 report on this historic storm along with news anchors Scott Richards and Brenda Ladun.

The next video, below, is part three of the historic "Storm of the Century" or "Blizzard of 1993" in Alabama.

These clips are in chronological order. This one begins at 12 a.m. on March 13, 1993 and ends just before 1 a.m. Notice how the power is flickering at the station during the past few minutes of the clip.

The blizzard was really cranking up in Birmingham by this time. Spann reported 6-8" on the ground and winds gusted to 51 mph on Red Mountain at approximately 12:50.

Meteorologist James Spann and Kevin Collins of WBRC 6 report on this historic storm.

This is part four of the historic coverage of the "Storm of the Century" or "Blizzard of 1993" in Alabama.

These clips are in chronological order. This one begins at approximately 1:50 a.m. on March 13, 1993 and ends at 3:15 a.m. By this time snow accumulations across Central Alabama were over 8" and wind gusts atop Red Mountain at Channel 6 were recorded at 58 miles per hour. Many, if not most of the people tuned in at the time were listening on portable radios as the power was out in many areas.

Snow was accumulating as far south as the beach at Gulf Shores in Baldwin County, Alabama.

The most fascinating part of this video was during the final five minutes as photographer Jeff Thorn describes the video he made, which includes thunder and lightning.

Meteorologist James Spann and Kevin Collins of WBRC 6 report on this historic storm.

This is the fifth and final part of James Spann's and Kevin Collins' historic live coverage of the "Storm of the Century" or "Blizzard of 1993" in Alabama.

This clip begins at approximately 3:15 a.m. on March 13, 1993 and ends at 8:44 a.m. By this time snow accumulations across Central Alabama were over one foot and wind gusts atop Red Mountain at Channel 6 were continued to exceed 40 miles per hour. Many, if not most of the people tuned in at the time were listening on portable radios as the power was out in many areas.

In addition to James and Kevin, WBRC 6 anchors Scott Richards, Janet Hall, photographer Jeff Thorn, and reporter Art Franklin contributed to this coverage.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Lauderdale County Killer Tornado 3/9/64

53 years ago today an F3 tornado killed two and injured five people in Lauderdale County.

According to the NWS, "a concrete block cafe was demolished along Highway 72. At Whitehead, two homes were totally destroyed killing a person in each one. Several other homes and automobiles were damaged. Trees and power lines were downed along the path." 

This tornado has been rated F3, was on the ground 15 miles, and was estimated to be 100 yards wide.

Another tornado, also rated F3, was on the ground over 10 miles in Franklin County according to the NWS. "Several trees were blown down and barns were damaged on Spruce Pine Mountain. At Tharptown, at least 2 homes were destroyed. A store and several homes were unroofed. Several automobiles were heavily damaged. Numerous trees were blown down along the path."

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

2/23/1975 Tuscaloosa F4 Tornado (Scottish Inn Tornado)

Forty nine people were injured and one was killed in a late winter F4 tornado that moved through Tuscaloosa County, Alabama on Sunday February 23, 1975.  The tornado touched down around 12:35 in the afternoon and traveled 14.4 miles from near Taylorville northeastward to Holt.  Some of the heaviest damage was near the intersection of Interstate 59 and McFarland Blvd.  The upper floor of the Scottish Inn was destroyed and a housekeeper at the Inn was killed. Over the entire path of the tornado, 289 homes, 20 businesses, and 21 trailers were destroyed or heavily damaged.  Tornadoes also occurred that day in Calhoun (F0), Cullman (F2), and Walker (F2) counties in Alabama. 


Tuscaloosa News (Articles/Photos)
NWS Birmingham
Bill Murray,

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Joppa - Arab Tornado 2/16/95

Birmingham Nexrad 2/16/95 at 5 a.m. when a Tornado Warning was issued for Marshall County.

At 4:59 a.m. on February 16, 1995, an F3 tornado touched down three miles west of Joppa in extreme northeast Cullman County. It traveled through the town of Joppa, crossed Alabama Highway 69 and moved into Marshall County, just southwest of Arab, at 5:06 a.m. The tornado moved across the southern side of Arab at 5:08 and crossed over U.S. Highway 231. It finally dissipated near Browns Creek on the western side of Lake Guntersville after being on the ground for 14 miles. Six people were killed and 130 were injured. One death occurred in a house and the other five occurred in mobile homes. Five of the deaths were in Marshall County and one was in Cullman County.

A total of 157 homes were destroyed (77 in Cullman and 80 in Marshall) and 12 businesses (6 in Cullman and 6 in Marshall) were destroyed. More than 40 commercial poultry houses were demolished and at least two small trailer parks were destroyed by the tornado. The roof was ripped off Amberwoods Garden Apartments and the tornado also tore through the Joppa Elementary School.

The New York Times reported that the tornado struck with "virtually no warning". That was rather misleading. Around 4:25, lightning knocked out operations at the Huntsville NWS, including radar. Thus the Birmingham NWS was pressed into action for the Huntsville office's County Warning Area. At 4:55, the NWS Birmingham issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning for Cullman County, four minutes before the tornado touched down west of Joppa. Noticing signs of rotation, they then issued a Tornado Warning for Marshall county at 5:01 a.m. Unfortunately, the Huntsville NOAA Weather Radio transmitter was also knocked out, so the warning message was never sent out over NOAA Weather Radio. Combine that with the fact that the tornado occurred in the early morning hours, around 5 am, with many people still asleep, and it is easy to see how people missed the warning.

Today I contacted Brian Peters, who was the Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Birmingham at the time. Here are some of his memories of the event:

"I recall there were two thunderstorms moving along parallel to one another right along the boundary between the Huntsville warning area and the Birmingham warning area. As I recall the Huntsville office went down due to a lightning strike which took down their radar but they were able to notify us. The storm that produced the Arab-Joppa tornado was just about to move into Marshall County from Cullman County, so when we issued the (tornado) warning we went with just Marshall County....this was one of those unfortunate events with everything happening at almost the same time."

Story from WHNT regarding what happened when lightning knocked the NWS Huntsville:

Huntsville television station WAFF revisited the tornado in an article in 2005:

"We started to the basement, but we didn't make it to the basement, it pretty much destroyed our house," Charlie McClendon, the tornado survivor, said. McClendon's house and 150 homes were destroyed throughout Arab and Joppa. The tornado leveled buildings and lives. One hundred and thirty people were injured, six killed. "I saw him, I got him out of the rubbage," said McClendon, Marshall County District One Commissioner. He was talking about his son in law, David Price. David died when they're mobile home was tossed in the wind. David's wife was pregnant with their first child, Will. He's now nine, and never knew his father."

Dan Satterfield's live coverage of the event for WHNT 19:

According to the Associated Press, the dead included a six year-old girl. A firefighter said that his rescue team found a one year-old baby, unhurt, under two trailers. One couple's A-frame home was lifted from its foundation, carried 40 feet, and dropped on a trailer. The couple clung to their bed and escaped serious harm.

Despite public outcry about the warning process that resulted in part from the Joppa-Arab tornado, the NWS Huntsville office was closed December 2, 1997. However, after a tremendous amount of pressure from people in North Alabama and U.S. Representative Bud Cramer, Huntsville would again have its own NWS Office. This tornado event was often cited as a reason the Tennessee Valley needed to have its own National Weather Service Office again.

Brindlee Mountain Amateur Radio Association (BMARA) at the National Guard Armory in Arab

In the aftermath of the Joppa Tornado of 1995, the Cullman County Emergency Management Agency began installing warning sirens in Cullman County as funds became available from local governments and through state and federal grants. The first siren at Joppa went on-line in February 1998.

Two other tornadoes occurred in Alabama that day. At 3:32 a.m. an F1 tornado touched down 6 miles east of Hamilton in Marion County, damaging five homes and destroying six chicken houses. It was on the ground for six miles. At 5:28 a.m., the same storm that produced the Joppa-Arab tornado produced an F2 tornado that traveled 12 miles from Marshall County into Dekalb County. Three people were injured. Ten homes were destroyed, 40 homes were damaged, and 30 chicken houses were damaged in this tornado.

Jim Cantore's coverage on TWC:

James Spann, Bob Baron, and Jay Prater's coverage:

Meteorologist Brian Peters, NWS Retired
NWS Huntsville
NWS Birmingham
Bill Murray at
Iowa Environmental Mesonet Archives

Brindlee Mountain Amateur Radio Association
Cullman County EMA


Monday, February 13, 2017

Coldest Day in Alabama History - 2/13/1899

This is from the Montgomery Advertiser, 2/14/1899. The temperature dropped to -14 on this date in Anniston in 1899.

12 below zero in Uniontown, AL in Perry County and -7 in Opelika in Lee County on this date in 1899.

On this date in 1899 the temperature dropped to five below zero in Selma, Alabama (Selma).

Mobile, AL celebrated Mardi Gras in 1899
with heavy sleet and dropped to -1.

The official low at the Fountain Heights weather office in Birmingham was -10.
Other lows included:
Tuscaloosa -7
Elba -7
Greensboro -5
Florence -11
Decatur -12
Oneonta -15
Hamilton –16
Scottsboro –16
Valley Head -18
Source: Bill Murray @wxhistorian on