A mere third of the track can be seen stretching off into the distance from this view, showing the massive scope of the destruction perpetrated by the tornado. Image created using USGS/Atlantic Group aerial imagery and Google Earth. Google Earth Imagery taken September 29, 2011, and aerial imagery taken May 1, 2011.

April 27, 2011, featured many uniquely violent and powerful tornadoes. However, one stands out above all others: Hackleburg. It produced one of the largest swaths of violent damage ever documented and, at the time, killed more people than any other single tornado since 1955. Beyond the meteorologically astounding features were the faces of those impacted, many of whom have not received the recognition they deserve. This series on the Hackleburg-Harvest tornado documents people’s stories county by county with as much detail as possible. It has been split into multiple sections. You can find these summaries listed below. The rest of this overview page contains complete maps of the tracks, statistical information, and discrepancies.

Much of this documentation would not have been possible without the aid of many contributors. Hackleburg Fire Chief David Cantrell and resident Tabatha Carter both provided amazing interviews of their experience with the tornado in the Hackleburg area. Franklin County EMA Director and Blue Springs Volunteer Fire Department Chief Mary Glass provided an account of her experience in Phil Campbell. Retired deputy Bryan McCraw also talked to us about what he saw in East Franklin. Lawrence County EMA Director Chris Waldrep, and Lawrence County EMA TVA Planner Tammy Vinson provided aid and spoke to us about their experiences in the Mount Hope and Langtown areas. Noe, Caroline, and Noe Jr. Guzman provided an incredible account of their experiences in the Langtown area. Thank you to Cindy Glasgow, Niccolo Ubalducci, Chris Lisauckis, Brannon Burcham, Lana Clinard, Carol Cardin, Debbie Kirby, and Marty Sellers for permission to feature their damage photographs. You guys rock. Every image featured from these contributors is cited to them. NO images provided by them are to be redistributed in any way without the explicit permission of the owners.

My interview with the Guzman family was particularly heart wrenching. At the end, we were asked if we could share a message from them on our website. The message is in Spanish and directed toward Spanish-speaking communities in the United States who may not be able to speak English and might be unaware of just how serious tornadoes can be. You can listen to it below. English translation courtesy of Anel Mata.

For all of the hispanic community, my name is Noel Guzman, my wife’s name is Carolina Guzman. We live in Northern Alabama in a town called Moulton, Alabama. We lost our 12 year old daughter from a tornado. Please, we beg of you that if there’s a tornado warning message, please take this very seriously. Don’t let what happened to me happen to you. Take care of your children, protect them, and take of yourselves as well. When there’s a danger of tornadoes, please find close shelter and save your children. Don’t do it for you, do it for them.

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Extreme damage just SW of Hackleburg. Image created using USGS/Atlantic Group aerial imagery and Google Earth. Google Earth Imagery taken September 29, 2011, and aerial imagery taken May 1, 2011.

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Destruction in southern portions of Phil Campbell. Image created using USGS/Atlantic Group aerial imagery and Google Earth. Aerial imagery taken April 29, 2011.
Destruction in the Chalybeate Springs area. Image created using USGS/Atlantic Group aerial imagery and Google Earth. Google Earth Imagery taken September 29, 2011, and aerial imagery taken May 1, 2011.
Destruction in the Harvest area. Image created using USGS/Atlantic Group aerial imagery and Google Earth. Google Earth Imagery taken September 29, 2011, and aerial imagery taken May 4, 2011.
Damage to a home in the Huntland area. Image from Carol Cardin.

Statistical Information on the Hackleburg-Harvest Tornado Uncovered in My Research

Path Length: 103.19 miles

Maximum Width: 2,125 yards (1.2 miles)

Rating: EF5

Duration: 1 hour 45 minutes

Fatalities: 71

Injuries: 551

Cost: $1.61 billion (Equivalent to $1.87 billion in 2021)

Homes destroyed: 1,067

Homes damaged: 993

All structures damaged or destroyed: 2,635

Counties: Marion, Franklin, Lawrence, Morgan, Limestone, Madison

Estimated area that experienced EF5 winds: 1,120 acres (1.75 square miles)

Estimated area that experienced EF4+ winds: 3,040 acres (4.75 square miles)

Estimated area that experienced EF3+ winds: 6,326 acres (9.88 square miles)

Estimated area that experienced EF2+ winds: 11,646 acres (18.20 square miles)

Estimated area that experienced EF1+ winds: 26,359 acres (41.19 square miles)

Estimated area that experienced EF0+ winds: 45,978 acres (71.80 square miles)

Statistical Information on the Huntland Tornado Uncovered in My Research

Path Length: 8.82 miles

Fatalities: 0

Injuries: 0

Width: 890 yards

Rating: EF3

Counties: Lincoln, Franklin (TN)

A Tornado Family?

The most glaring discrepancy with this tornado is the separation of the official track into two separate tornadoes. The Storm Prediction Center (SPC), the Storm Data Publication (SDP), and the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) all list a path length of 132 miles that extends into southern TN. However, I found that all signs of tornado damage ended three miles NW of Meridianville, AL in Madison County, leaving a shorter tornado track of 103.19 miles. Curiously, the original track marked by damage surveyors on the Damage Assessment Toolkit (DAT) ends just 0.86 miles further west than mine, and similar in length. For reasons unknown, it was later connected to an entirely separate tornado track in Tennessee despite well over 18 miles of no noted damage. Aerial and satellite imagery show no signs of tornado damage in that interval. Radar data is also supportive of two tornadoes. It shows an occluding velocity couplet (the Hackleburg tornado) which completely disappears just after my end point. Another separate rotation formed, and this produced the Huntland tornado in TN.

In 2019, researchers from the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) presented their analysis of tornado debris signatures in association with the supercell that produced the Hackleburg tornado at an American Meteorological Society (AMS) meeting in Phoenix, AZ. They came to the exact same conclusion. They found that the tornado debris signature completely disappeared with signs of a final debris fallout where I believe the tornado ended. In addition, their professional analysis also found no sign of tornado damage for an interval of 18.73 miles – the gap between the end of the Hackleburg tornado and the start of the Huntland event.

Fatality/Injury Discrepancies

Officially, there were 72 fatalities caused by this tornado. The actual number was found to be 71. This is because a Phil Campbell resident who died in Hackleburg was listed in the fatality counts for both Marion and Franklin counties.

145 injuries were listed by the SPC, SDP, and the NCDC for the Hackleburg tornado. However, injuries were either undercounted or underestimated in Marion County, and not listed at all in Franklin, Lawrence, Morgan, and Madison Counties. Extensive research into the number for all of these areas came up with a conservative total of 551.

Here are the original stats from the SPC. Statistics created for the second tornado are also featured below.

SPC Stats

Path length: 132 miles

Width:  2200 yards

Fatalities:  72

Injuries:  145

Rating:  EF5

County:  Marion, Franklin, Lawrence, Morgan, Limestone, Madison (AL) / Lincoln, Franklin (TN)

SPC Track Map

SPC Coordinates:    Start: 34.1043/-88.1479    End: 35.0857/-86.1511

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

Imagery Map

136 USGS/Atlantic Group aerial imagery tiles were overlaid into Google Earth to create a visible map of the scar. Google Earth imagery taken from January – December, 2011, and aerial imagery taken from April 29 – May 4, 2011.

EF Scale Map

Hackleburg tornado – Corrected coordinates based on ground level, aerial, and satellite imagery, as well as all reliable damage reports:

Start: 34.1043/-88.1479    End: -86.616085 / 34.878673

Huntland tornado – Corrected coordinates based on satellite imagery and any reliable damage reports:

Start: -86.326784 / 35.005135    End: -86.206996 / 35.066602

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

Radar

Part 1 of a radar loop of the tornado from the NWS Huntsville. (If GIF does not loop automatically, click it to play).
Part 2 of a radar loop of the tornado from the NWS Huntsville. (If GIF does not loop automatically, click it to play).

In Loving Memory

In Hackleburg
Bridgett Brisbois, 34
Charles Garner, 75
Chris Dunn, 32
Cledis McCarley, 69
Donna Jokela, 77
Ed Hall, 53
Faye O’Kelley, 70
Freddie Lollie, 81
John Lynch, 70
Kaarlo Jokela, 76
Ken Vaughn, 24
Linda Knight, 57
Mae Garner, 79
Robbie Cox, 68
Teresa Hall, 50
Tina Donais, 36
Vicki Lollie, 55
Vicky McKee, 47

In Phil Campbell
Donna Berry, 52
Nila Black, 68
Zan Reese Black, 45
Jack Cox, 78
Donnie Gentry, 63
Patricia Gentry, 50
Lester Hood, 81
James Keller Jr., 33
Rickey Knox, 10
Amy LeClere, 33
Jay LeClere, 45
Dagmar Leyden, 56
Claudia Mojica, 38
Edgar Mojica, 9
Edna Nix, 89
Martha Pace, 64
Georgia Scribner, 83
Jack Tenhaeff, 67
Sonya Trapp, 47
Carroll Waller, 76
Gerri Waller, 64

In East Franklin
Jeffrey Cotham, 35
Charlene Crochet, 41
Donald Heaps, 48
Kelli Morgan, 24
Michael Morgan, 32

In Mount Hope
Chase Adams, 21
Earl Crosby Sr., 63
Helen Smith, 84
Horace Smith, 83
J.W. Parker, 78

In Mount Moriah
Allen Terry, 49
Herman Terry, 80

In Langtown
Lyndon Mayes, 74
Mary Mayes, 76
Mike Dunn, 58

In Chalybeate Springs/far southern Hillsboro
Aurelia Guzman, 12
Donald Ray, 73
Edward Vuknic, 66
Zora Lee Hale, 80

In Tanner
Carol McElyea, 47
Glen Riddle, 55
Janice Riddle, 54

In East Limestone
Shannon Sampson, 39

In Harvest
Bobby Moore, 61
Fred Post, 72
Harold Fitzgerald, 65
Katelyn Cornwell, 15
Milinia Hammonds, 32
Rachel Tabor, 37
Ronnie McGaha, 42

In Toney
Gregory Braden, 58
Philomena Muotoe, 79

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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.

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