Wednesday, May 03, 2017

May 3, 1984 Tornado Outbreak in Alabama

On this date in 1984, 17 tornadoes occurred in Alabama. The most significant tornado occurred in Montgomery, where five people were killed and 37 injured in an F3 tornado which touched down just before rush hour on the Northern Bypass at 7:00 a.m.  Four of the fatalities were in automobiles and one in a mobile home.  According to the Alabama Tornado database from the NWS Birmingham:

"Damage was extensive along the entire path of the tornado. At least 20 homes were destroyed, 36 homes sustained major damage, 157 homes had minor damage, 9 mobile homes were destroyed, 8 businesses were destroyed, and numerous vehicles were destroyed."

The map below from shows the path of the Montgomery tornado.
This was the first big weather event for longtime WSFA Chief Meteorologist Rich Thomas. He later described the event for

"More tornadoes struck that afternoon, with a funnel cloud even passing over the station. The power went out but the broadcast continued with an emergency generator, one camera and a light.  'We went wall to wall (continuous coverage),' he said. 'I was 28 years old, and it was a trial by fire!'  The station general manager was so impressed with his coverage that day he gave him $100."
According to the Monthly Weather Review from May 1984:

Four of the deaths and several of the 37 injuries occurred when the tornado damaged or destroyed about 25 vehicles that were travelling on a (northern) bypass. Some of the victims were thrown from their cars which were carried or rolled 92 m (1oo yards) from the road.  The fifth fatality was the occupant of a mobile home.” 

According to a UPI article:

"Alabama Gov. George Wallace declared a state of emergency and asked President Reagan to declare the state a disaster area. A trucker whose 18-wheeler was blown away in the funnel cloud that set down on the four-lane Northern Bypass highway in Montgomery said the twister tore out the seat of his pants. 'I don't know whether I was blown away from the truck or whether the truck was blown away from me. It was a mess,' said Amos Garmon. 'The seat of my britches was out. It just about tore my clothes off." Police officers used long sticks probed the swampy area next to the road, trying to determine if bodies were thrown into the morass, but by late Thursday night none had been found. Spokesmen said 17 people were taken to Baptist Medical Center in Montgomery and 13 to Jackson Hospital. 'The injuries range from lacerations and bumps and bruises to very serious injuries,' said Baptist spokesman Gene Hannah. 'We've got three patients in surgery. We've got one patient who had a coronary.' Ronald Jackson, 21, said he was driving down Northern Bypass when 'the wind picked up and things started blowing around. Juts before we pulled over I saw it coming from the southwest. I was scared as hell. Jackson, who suffered contusions and lacerations, said his car was 'turned over in the ditch and picked up and dropped again.' 'I was screaming 'Make it stop'' he said. He said he saw cars 'in trees and in ditches' after the tornado passed." 

No fatalities were reported in any of the other 16 tornadoes which occurred across Alabama that day.
Following is a list of the other tornadoes which were confirmed in the morning and early afternoon of May 3, 1984 according to the Birmingham National Weather Service:

12:30 a.m. SW Limestone F1 A tornado struck near Clements High School and moved NE.  One barn was destroyed, a home unroofed, and at least 100 trees were downed.

7:10 a.m. Macon F1 S Milstead
Two homes were damaged and trees were knocked down.

8:10 a.m. Henry F1 Lake Eufaula
Several mobile homes were damaged and many trees were blown down.
10:48 a.m. Sumter F0 6 S York
Tornado briefly touched down and uprooted some trees.
11:30 a.m. Shelby F1 Vincent
Most of the damage was confined to downed trees.
11:35 a.m. Shelby-Talladega F2 W Childersburg-Winterboro
Several structures were damaged or destroyed along the path. Numerous trees were blown down.

From NOAA "Storm Data" Publication May 1984
11:40 a.m. Dallas F2 Selma
A 300 foot TV tower was leveled and it caused extensive damage to the building below. One manufacturing plant was heavily damaged.

From NOAA "Storm Data" Publication May 1984
11:49 a.m. Dale F0 SE Daleville
A small tornado briefly touched down in an open field with little or no damage.

11:56 a.m. Dale F2 Midland City
A high school campus was heavily damaged and a few buildings were actually destroyed. Several other buildings and homes suffered damage along the path

From NOAA "Storm Data" Publication May 1984
12:15 p.m. Clay-Randolph F2 0/2 Union-Folsom
Several mobile homes or outbuildings were damaged or destroyed along the path.

From NOAA "Storm Data" Publication May 1984
12:18 p.m. Cleburne F2 Taylor-Beason Mill-Arbacoochee
6 homes were damaged, 2 mobile homes were destroyed, and numerous trees were blown down

12:22 p.m. Cleburne F1 Heflin-SW Edwardsville
Some homes sustained roof damage, one mobile home was destroyed, and many trees were blown down.
12:35 Randolph F1 Morrisons Crossroads-Newell-Pine Hill
One barn was destroyed and one home damaged at Morrisons Crossroads. Outbuildings were damaged at Newell. Several trees downed in the Pine Hill Community.
12:40 p.m. Cleburne F2 S Hightower-SE Ranburne
3 barns and 2 chicken houses were destroyed. 10 other homes sustained roof damage and numerous trees were downed.

 1:00 p.m. Macon F2 Pleasant Hill-Little Texas
A 30K gallon tank was pulled off its foundation and moved 10 ft. 3 buildings were destroyed, 4 homes were damaged, and numerous trees were downed.

1:30 p.m. Lee F2 0/1 Smiths
A grocery store, a restaurant, a hardware store, a several mobile homes were destroyed. One person was injured in a mobile home. Hundreds of trees were downed.

Numerous other severe reports can be found in NOAA NESDIS Storm Data Publication for May 1984.

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