Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Harpersville F4 Tornado - 1/24/64

Photo by Shelby County Reporter
Ten people were killed and six more were injured when a brief, relatively small, yet powerful tornado hit Harpersville in Shelby County, Alabama at 7 p.m. on Friday January 24, 1964.  The tornado was on the ground for only four miles and was never much wider than 100 yards. 

In a storm survey report by Charles F. Bradley, NWS Birmingham, MIC and J.B. Elliott, NWS Birmingham, Forecaster, they describe the worst damage:

"Two houses were completely carried away from their foundations.  One was picked up and carried some 500 feet, where it was slammed into another house.  Four died in that house (one of the injured died later), and 5 died in another house across Hwy 280 about 300 yards NE of the first house that was destroyed.  In the latter house, an electric freezer  weighing several hundred pounds was carried some 150 yards before being dropped."

The Shelby County Reporter described the storm as follows:

"It left ten dead and six injured. The path of this one was very narrow, ranging from only 50 yards to about 125 yards in width, but damage was heavy in the narrow path. This one struck entirely without warning. Birmingham radar was monitoring the area at the time. But the line of thunderstorms approaching Harpersville appeared only moderate -- proof that radar is by no means foolproof. Harpersville residents later reported that no unusual and brilliant display of lightning was seen, and most thought it was just an ordinary thundershower."

Most likely this was a typical winter time low topped storm produced in a high shear, low instability environment.  These short-lived tornadoes are difficult to detect and warn for even in the age of Doppler radar, so it is no surprise that in 1964 this one happened without warning. 

New York Times article from January 25, 1964.


Sarah Slaughter said...

My parents have told me the story of this night. I was 19 months old and playing in the kitchen floor while my Mother was washing dishes. She saw the weird color of the sky and then saw the tornado passing through our pasture moving to the right of our house into the neighbors pasture. No one was injured in our neighborhood but they learned later of how horrible it had been just a mile or so before it passed us. It was a sad time for our little town.

Mike Wilhelm said...

Thank you for sharing your story!