Tuesday, May 01, 2018

May Day Tornado Outbreak - 5/1/1953

1953 was a bad year for killer tornadoes in the United States and Alabama was not immune. The nationwide death toll in 1953 was 519 and in Alabama it was 24. Tornadoes killed one Alabamian on February 20, 1953 and fourteen on April 18, 1953.  The spring tornado season was not over, though, and nine were killed and seventeen injured in the state on Friday May 1, 1953.

May 2, 1953 Florence Times

The May 1, 1953 outbreak included two tornadoes which were considered to be F4 intensity. Officially there were four documented tornadoes in the state that day.  But without the ability to detect and confirm smaller tornadoes especially in rural areas that we have today, it would not be surprising if there were additional tornadoes which were not documented. 

Map of 5/1/1953 Tornadoes

Tornado #1 - Chilton County F2 - 5:15 p.m.
This tornado was on the ground for 1 1/2 miles and was about 100 yards wide in the Minooka community, five miles south of Calera and six miles north of Jemison, in northern Chilton County.  One person was injured, five homes were damaged, and six barns were destroyed.  Fortunately there were no fatalities.

According to the May 2, 1953 Florence (Alabama) Times, "Two awed Highway Patrol officers saw a tornado appear near Calera, 33 miles south of Birmingham. 'We watched it form and begin to pick things up, related W.L. Allen. When it got too close to us, we ran like hell.'  A negro mother and child were injured and four or five homes were leveled in this section before the raging winds bounded toward the east....Old highway 31 south of Calera was blocked for a time by fallen trees and power lines. Traffic was halted until the road could be cleared."  

Tornado #2 - Clay County F4 - 7:30 p.m.
This tornado was on the ground for 12.1 miles and was 440 yards wide in the Millerville-Lineville area. Seven people died and twelve were injured in this storm.  According to the NWS Birmingham tornado database, 19 homes were destroyed, 50 homes were damaged, 36 other buildings were destroyed, and 57 other buildings were damaged. "Numerous chickens were killed and stripped of their feathers," according to the NWS report. 

A user on the Tornado History Project website made this comment about the tornado, "Although it occurred three years before my birth, I often heard my parents speak of this storm. Late in the evening at dark while frying fish with another couple, my mother (who was pregnant with my older brother) heard an all too familiar roar much like she heard on March 21, 1932 as her home was destroyed in Paint Rock, Alabama. The others insisted that it was a train, but Mom insisted that it was a tornado. "Once you hear that sound, you never forget it." They stepped outside to look around and the funnel was less that two blocks away. Dad described it as a slender wedge with much debris aloft, the base of the funnel gyrating in a looping fashion. They jumped into the car to outrun it, but noticed it was moving away from them. Their perspective would have been on State Highway 49 just south of Lineville but north of the tornado's path. Dad was the local dentist and spent that night at the hospital in nearby Ashland helping treat victims of the storm. I am very thankful they didn't pursue outrunning the tornado, especially at dark! Strangly, this storm occurred at the same time as the Paint Rock Tornado."

According to the May 2, 1953 Florence (Alabama) Times, "The storm smashed upon a cluster of homes near Ashland just as night fell, killing seven persons in three family groups. The blasting winds and accompanying lightning storm knocked out all electric power at Ashland. The first injured brought to the tiny Clay County Hospital were treated by candlelight....the Clay County Hospital reported treating 10 persons."

Tornado #3 - Jefferson County F1 - 8:00 p.m.
This small tornado briefly touched down in Trussville and was only on the ground for 1/10th of a mile and was reportedly only 10 yards wide.  No one was injured or killed, but according to the NWS tornado database five homes and one other building were destroyed and one other building was damaged.

Tornado #4 - Choctaw County F4 - 8:00 p.m.
On the ground for 10 miles and 200 yards wide, this tornado was responsible for the deaths of two people and injuries to three others in the Riderwood, Lisman, and Yantley communities.  According to the NWS Birmingham, two homes were "disintegrated" at Yantley and the debris was thrown over a half mile.


NWS Birmingham - Alabama Tornado Database - 1953
"The Deadly Tornado Year of 1953" - Alabamawx.com, by Bill Murray
Tornado History Project
Florence Times - May 2, 1953


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