SPC Stats

Path length: 20.26 miles

Width:  200 yards

Fatalities:  0

Injuries:  0

Rating:  EF3

County:  Tuscaloosa, Jefferson

Tornado Path

SPC coordinates:  33.163 / -87.3716    End:  33.296 / -87.0594

Corrected coordinates Based on Analysis of Aerial and Satellite Imagery:

Start:  33.161293 / -87.356371    End: 33.296 / -87.0594 

Note:  Exact tornado path may not be straight and/or continuous.

Summary

The first wave of storms to occur on April 27, 2011, rolled through during the early morning hours. They formed along an intense line of thunderstorms and were accompanied by damaging straight-line winds. The NWS Birmingham documented 11 tornadoes ranging in intensity from EF1 to EF3 between 4:16 am and 619 am CDT that fateful Wednesday morning. This summary looks at one of the most intense.

Radar loop via NWS Birmingham.

We thought that we were hit hard that morning. But shoot, after we saw what happened in Tuscaloosa, we felt like we were fortunate. We felt lucky then.

That was Coaling Mayor Charley Foster in an October 2011 article for Tuscaloosanews.com. The early AM twisters of April 27, 2011, are sometimes called “the forgotten tornadoes.” The events of that morning are often overshadowed by the devastating twisters later in the day. Per the same article, “Without the afternoon ones, you’d have two morning tornadoes that were EF3s,” said David Hartin, Tuscaloosa Emergency Management Agency director. “And EF3s are very rare. Generally what we see is EF0s, EF1s and EF2s.“

This tornado developed at 5:17 am CDT north of CR 14, along Austin Powder Road, WNW of Coaling. Damage was initially to trees. The twister moved in an easterly direction for about three miles, staying south and running parallel to U.S. Highway 11. It moved into the north side of Coaling. The tornado peaked in intensity along this stretch with estimated winds at 155 mph (EF3).

The Magnolia Springs subdivision was devastated. Almost every house on the 38 lots in the neighborhood sustained some degree of damage. An estimated 12 to 15 homes were destroyed. One large residence was wiped from its foundation.

Firefighter Reginald Eppes woke up in his Magnolia Springs home to the sound of thunder. He stumbled into the kitchen and found his wife, Danielle reading her bible at the table. The winds were howling, and Reginald asked her where the flashlights were located. She pointed him to the toy room where he found one, and he returned to the kitchen. In an interview with CBN, Reginald recalls, “She says, ‘Baby, do you want to get the boys up?’ I said, ‘Uh…’ Before I could finish that statement, the lights went out, the winds started going, the windows blew.”

Danielle and Reginald ran to the bedroom of their three sons. Danielle grabbed the youngest son, Joel, while Reginald held the middle boy James Peter. He then yelled to his oldest, Reginald Jr. (R.J.), to get up out of his bed. As the father stretched out his arms to take hold of his son, the winds snatched him instead. In an interview with NPR the day after the tornado, Reginald described what it was like watching his child disappear in the tornadic winds. “It was like somebody just had a slingshot on him, a rope or a rubber band, and had traction on that rubber band and pulled him away. It was just that quick. And you could see nothing.”

Reginald covered James Peter to protect him from flying debris. The father was struck by something heavy. He later noted in an interview in Reader’s Digest that it may have been a washing machine. Danielle prayed as the home shattered around them.

Image of the Eppes' home via Northport Fire Rescue Facebook Page.

The winds died down. Danielle, Reginald, and two of their sons stood in disbelief among the ruins that used to be their home. In the darkness, they made out a small figure that walked their way. Lightning flashed and revealed that the figure was 8-year-old R.J. He had cuts and a few bruises, but he was alive. The Reader’s Digest article documented R.J’s description of his experience. “I floated out when the wall started moving. I think I was above the trees. I was scared. My mom and dad were gone. Pieces of glass went across my back, and something hit my neck really hard.”

The family went to DCH Medical Center in Tuscaloosa, and all but Reginald were treated for minor injuries. The Northport firefighter had three broken ribs and a collapsed lung. Danielle and the kids were released and stayed at her sister’s home nearby. Twelve hours after the Eppes’ family experienced an EF3 tornado that destroyed their home, they had to shelter once again when another devastating twister moved in their direction. Per TuscaloosaNews.com, Reginald was placed in the hallway outside of his hospital room for safety. Danielle and her boys were sheltered in closets and bathrooms at her sister’s home. They all were safe, and only minor damage was reported at the house.

Within months, the Eppes family built a new residence and moved in early October of 2011. Their new home came equipped with a storm shelter. Listen to the interview with Reginald Eppes the day after the tornado on the NPR clip below.

About a mile northeast of Coaling, the tornado made a turn to the east-northeast and started a weakening trend. It crossed US 11 and veered to the northeast near the I-20/I-59 interchange. The northern extent of the Mercedes-Benz Plant was hit, causing damage to the fitness center. One of the plant’s auxiliary buildings was unroofed. Trees fell on top of cars in the employee parking lot. Several light poles were knocked down along I-20 near the plant, and numerous trees were snapped.

Photo taken after a storm on the morning of April 27, 2011 in front of the Mercedes-Benz U.S. International (MBUSI) in Vance, Alabama, USA. Thilo Parg / Wikimedia Commons.

Little is known about the rest of the damage path in Tuscaloosa County. There is a brief mention in an article from TuscaloosaNews.com about the Woodland Lake and Dream Lake subdivisions. “It was mostly trees, vegetative damage,” said Alan Springer, an engineer with Tuscaloosa County. “There were some structures that were damaged because trees fell on them.”

The tornado crossed into Jefferson County at I-20 and Bucksville. The path in the county was short at just under 2 miles. It weakened further with EF0 tree damage noted in the NWS survey. The tornado ended near the intersection of Old Tuscaloosa Highway and Lowetown Road.

Images

Image of the 0.5 degree reflectivity data from KBMX at 521 am CDT as the circulation passed between Coaling and Vance. Via NWS Birmingham.
Image of the 0.5 degree velocity (SRM) data from KBMX at 521 am CDT as the circulation passed between Coaling and Vance. Via NWS Birmingham.
All walls collapsed. Off Jack Lunceford Drive north of Coaling. Via NWS Birmingham.
Garage removed from house. Via NWS Birmingham.
Storm shelter still standing in the above garage. Via NWS Birmingham.
Major home damage. Via NWS Birmingham.
Significant home damage. Via NWS Birmingham.
Damaged homes in the Magnolia Springs subdivision, Coaling, AL. April 27, 2011 via John Ratliff on Wikipedia.

Facebook Embeds

Video

Discrepancies:

We gathered information for this event from the SPC and NCDC Databases, the April 2011 Storm Data Publication (SDP), the NWS Birmingham Event Page, and analysis of aerial and satellite imagery and found the following differences:

Path Length:

  • The SPC/NCDC/SDP/NWS Birmingham list a path length of 20.26 miles.
  • Analysis of the damage indicates an 19.92 mile track.

    Path Width:

    • The SPC/NCDC/SDP/NWS Birmingham list a maximum width of 200 yards.
    • Analysis of the damage indicates a maximum width of 350 yards.

      Injuries:

      • The SPC/NCDC/SDP/NWS Birmingham list 0 injuries.
      • Based on newspaper reports, there were at least 5 injuries (Eppes Family)

        Sources:

        The Storm Prediction Center

        April 2011 Storm Data Publication

        NCDC Storm Events Database Entry-Lincoln County

        NCDC Storm Events Database Entry-Tuscaloosa County

        NCDC Storm Events Database Entry-Jefferson County

        NWS Overview Page

        NWS Birmingham Event Page

        Google Earth

        Damage Assessment Toolkit

        Northport Fire Rescue

        Cooper, A. (2020, April 07). Taken by the wind-and back to earth.https://www.rd.com/article/taken-by-the-wind-and-back-to-earth/

        Enfinger, E. (2021, April 25). ‘I had a long conversation with god in that moment’: Firefighter recalls historic tornado outbreak.https://www.tuscaloosanews.com/story/news/local/2021/04/25/firefighter-recalls-terror-april-27-tuscaloosa-tornado-outbreak/7139750002/

        Evans-Saracual, M. (2018, October 12). R.J. Eppes: Nearly swept away.https://www1.cbn.com/700club/r-j-eppes-nearly-swept-away

        Mercedes-Benz’s Alabama Plant damaged by RECENT tornados – auto news. (2011, April 29).http://www.trucktrend.com/news/163-news110429-mercedes-benz-alabama-plant-damaged-tornados

        Witness recalls deadly Tuscaloosa tornado. (2011, April 28).https://www.npr.org/2011/04/28/135812706/witness-recalls-deadly-tuscaloosa-tornado

        Writer, R. (2011, October 27). Coaling homes damaged by ‘forgotten TORNADOES’ of April 27.https://www.tuscaloosanews.com/article/DA/20111027/News/605314161/TL

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        Note:  There are some images/videos in our summaries that were licensed to us to be used only on this website. If you would like to use an image/video in your project or blog, please contact us and we will grant permission if possible.

        Newspaper clips are embedded via newspapers.com.  Please see their terms and conditions.


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