Path length: 3.3 miles
Width: 200 yards
SPC coordinates: Start: 33.80 / -85.78 End: 33.83 / -85.75
Corrected Coordinates based on Storm Data:
Start: 33.797210/-85.790659 End: 33.832118/-85.756099
Eight tornadoes are found in The Storm Prediction Center database for December 11, 1961. They occurred across four states in the south. We are looking at one given a rating of F3. It moved about three miles through the town of Jacksonville in Calhoun County. A good deal of the damage was at the Jacksonville State University. The Anniston Star from December 12, 1961, breaks down the twister’s path through campus:
- Hit the press boxes at Paul Snow Memorial Stadium.
- “Zig-zagged” to the north to Leone Cole Student Center. This was the new dining hall. An electric clock stopped at 608pm CT. Part of the roof was damaged.
- Students were just finishing their meal when the building was hit, there were no injuries.
- Next in line, Hammond Hall, the old cafeteria. Most of the north wall was “ripped from the structure and strewn across the campus”.
- The tornado moved into the main paring log in front of Bibb Graves Hall. Several trees were uprooted.
- The tornado lifted across the highway in front of the college.
The Anniston Star also reported that at the time the tornado hit, there were several school girls who had gathered for the Junior and Senior Miss Jacksonville Contest. There were no injuries. From the paper:
I am in NO way an expert on the Fujita Scale but I after looking at hundreds of events I think I can make the following guess….I don’t believe this was an F3 tornado. I base this on the smattering of pictures found in newspapers and the descriptions of damage. There was some roof damage and trees downed. An older building had one wall blown down but the rest stayed in tact. Storm Data stated that there were cars overturned. I didn’t see picture evidence of that. There were damaged cars though. Storm Data also said that the path was erratic and the funnel was aloft part of the time. There were a lot of students on campus for several events, yet there were no injuries. This is awesome, but it makes me think that if the damage had been F3, there would have been more injuries.
This tornado is not found in Thomas Grazulis’ Significant Tornadoes. He didn’t think this tornado met the criteria as “significant”. He has a very detailed section of his book describing his approach to assigning an F-rating. I reviewed his notes and it would seem the damage here may be closer to an F1.
We gathered information for this event from the SPC & NCDC Databases and the December 1961 Storm Data Publication and found the following differences:
- SPC/NCDC have a 3.3 mile path length.
- Storm Data have a length at 3 miles.
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