I’ve never seen devastation like this.

Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States on April 29, 2011
The scar across Tuscaloosa, one of two metropolitan areas this tornado devastated. Image created using Google Earth and NOAA aerial imagery taken April 28-29, 2011.

There are few, if any tornadoes in modern history more infamous than this one. Cutting a gash through both the Tuscaloosa and Birmingham metro areas, it was the face of the 2011 Tornado Super Outbreak. The number of people affected was staggering, as was the toll; 72 direct and indirect fatalities, and at least 1,900 injured. Monetary costs were estimated at $2.4 billion.

The scars left by this storm still continue today. Some communities were unable to completely recover, and there are areas scorched by violent winds that remain empty and barren ten years later. Lives lost can never be replaced, and some injuries, both physical and emotional, will linger on.

October 2019 NAIP aerial imagery of Tuscaloosa, showing the scar that still remains. Imagery from the USGS.

The rampage of the twister itself was just the beginning of the real story: the people. In the darkest hours for Tuscaloosa and the Birmingham suburbs, some of the best of humanity was able to shine through. The outpouring of support and the resiliency of those challenged in the days, months, and years after the event was incredible. The people lost to this tornado are and will continue to be remembered and honored.

We have documented this event in 10 separate summaries divided along different portions of the damage track. We hope the stories and information gathered can serve as a lasting testament for the future.

Much of this documentation would not have been possible without the aid of many contributors. Adam Melton, Bill Murray, Linda Hankins, Skip Baumhower, Michael Palmer, Allen Banks, Debbie Blake, Bradley Boyd, Rusty Brooks, Ross Burns, Tim Beckett, Niccolo Ubalducci, and Brian Logan all provided permission to feature their amazing photos. A special thanks in particular to Kelly Michals for going above and beyond in individually geotagging and uploading several hundred images for us along the entire track. Tim Marshall also granted permission to feature his photos and sent us invaluable survey data he collected on the track. We talked with Willie Fort, assistant executive director for the Tuscaloosa Housing Authority. He provided details on the damage, recovery and restoration of Rosedale Court. Finally, an enormous thanks to James Spann for permission to feature images that were sent to him by viewers and used in live coverage of the event on April 27, 2011. You are a huge inspiration and your dedication saved thousands of lives in those dark hours. NO images provided by these contributors are to be redistributed in any way without their explicit permission.

Summaries

A map displaying all of the summary segments for this tornado.

Premium summary!  Available Now!  

A home that was smashed near the Friday Circle neighborhood. Image from Kelly Michals.

Premium summary!  Available Now!  

Dazed survivors and rescuers walking about in Rosedale Court minutes after the tornado passed through. Image from Michael Palmer.

Tuscaloosa:
Hargrove Road to McFarland Blvd
(Coming Soon!)

What was once the site of a home where three people lost their lives. Image from Bradley Boyd.

Tuscaloosa:
McFarland Blvd to 34th Avenue East
(Coming Soon!)

An ironic twist to a sign banning littering. Image from Bradley Boyd.

Holt
(Coming Soon!)

An American Flag that was ripped and torn by the wind. Image from the American Red Cross.

Peterson to Tuscaloosa/
Jefferson County Line
(Coming Soon!)

Obliterated forest in rural Tuscaloosa County along Stinett Road. Image created by stitching together two photos from Kelly Michals.

North Johns/Concord
(Coming Soon!)

A mangled pickup truck near Concord. Image from the American Red Cross.

Pleasant Grove
(Coming Soon!)

A trail of devastation through Pleasant Grove. Image created using Google Earth and NOAA aerial imagery taken April 29, 2011.

McDonald Chapel/Pratt City/
Smithfield Estates
(Coming Soon!)

Destruction across Smithfield Estates. Image from Niccolo Ubalducci.

Fultondale
(Coming Soon!)

A Day’s Inn that was destroyed in Fultondale. Image from Tim Marshall.

Discrepancies

How Many Were Injured?

The SPC/NWS Birmingham Event Page list a total of 1,500 injuries. The Storm Data Publication (SDP), and National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), list 800 injuries in Tuscaloosa County and 700 injuries in Jefferson County for a total of 1,500. Per Tuscaloosanews.com, 200 were treated at Northport Medical Center. We also know that 600 were registered at DCH Regional Medical Center, making up the Tuscaloosa County total of 800. However, in the book All You Can Do is Pray, James Spann wrote, “Hospital records show that 600 were treated in the emergency department, but those were only the patients that were registered. Less acute patients went to other centers set up in the hospital building, not going through the E.D. It is estimated that around 1,000 patients were treated the night of April 27, 2011.” While surely a couple of critical patients from outside of the county came into DCH from other places hit, that is more than offset by the fact that there are no injury totals for anyone in Tuscaloosa County outside of the two aforementioned hospitals. In humanitarian situations like this and as exemplified all across the Southeast that night, many of the less severe injuries are patched up on site or go untended because of the overwhelming numbers and the confusion. Thus, a total of 1,900 injuries is not only quite plausible, it is highly conservative.

Path Length

The SPC/NCDC/SDP/NWS Birmingham Event Page list a path length of 80.68 miles. Extremely detailed analysis of the damage dramatically extended the beginning of the track to 4.8 miles WNW of West Greene – well before the official start point. Including the curvature of the track, this makes for a total path length of 96.33 miles.

Maximum Width

The SPC/NCDC/SDP/NWS Birmingham Event Page list a maximum width of 2,600 yards. The Damage Assessment Toolkit (DAT) polygon information also lists a maximum width of 2,600 yards. However, the maximum measurable width of the polygon is 1,855 yards (1.05 miles). Extremely detailed analysis of the damage indicates a maximum width of 2,225 yards (1.26 miles).

SPC Stats

Path length: 80.68 miles

Width:  2600 yards

Fatalities:  64

Injuries:  1,500

Rating:  EF4

County:  Greene, Tuscaloosa, Jefferson

Maps

SPC Track Map

SPC coordinates:  33.0297 / -87.935    End:  33.6311 / -86.7436

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

Start:  32.937001 / -88.165850  End: 33.631521 / -86.743159

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

EF Scale Map
Imagery Map

Radar Loop

Reflections on the Tuscaloosa Tornado in their Own Words

There were so many heroes. In America today, you see so much hate, anger, rage, and vitriol. In the days and weeks following April 27, 2011, in Alabama, there was unity. People were unified in their effort to help their neighbors in need. Really didn’t matter if they voted Democrat or Republican, if they were black or white. Pulled for Alabama or Auburn. Nobody even asked or cared, it was a remarkable effort of people helping people.

James Spann in his book “All You Can Do Is Pray.”

In the first 24 hours, I’m not sure everyone in Tuscaloosa really understood the impact. Cable was out, power was out… We go out, and we go down University Boulevard and go by The Strip and there’s kids out there like a normal Thursday afternoon. You know, drinking and having a good time… And then you go a mile and a half down the road and you hit Alberta and it’s gone. Like the fist of God had just slammed down upon it. And people bleeding, and walking themselves to the hospital. You can’t get anyone to answer. I mean, it was just chaos.

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox, reflecting on the event ten years later.

There’s a point in life where you - where you know that everybody is your brother, everybody is your sister, and this was that day.

Meteorologist Jason Simpson, reflecting on the event one year later.

I do look back at what happened, and there’s kind of a proud moment that we made it through, you know that we made it to ten years, and life is much better now. But it is a sad moment in our histories, it’s a moment in our history that something tragic happened, and we can’t forget that. You know, even after we get past the ten-year anniversary we’ve got to remember that.

Meteorologist Richard Scott, reflecting on the event ten years later.

I feel the tornado was a deep wound, and deep wounds heal with a scar that reminds us both of the initial hurt and the incredible recovery.

Adam Jones, reporter for the Tuscaloosa News reflecting nine years later.

Looking back on the situation 10 years later, I believe the city of Tuscaloosa, the leaders in Tuscaloosa at the time, and the boots on the ground did as good a job as any city could have done or has ever done. Mayor [Walt] Maddox was able to communicate that sense of, ‘Everything’s going to get better, everything’s not alright, but it’ll get better.’

Alan Martin, former chief of Tuscaloosa Fire Rescue.

When it set on one end of Pleasant Grove, it stayed on the ground until it left Pleasant Grove. Probably one of the most eye-awakening days that I’ve ever had in my life.

Jerry W. Brasseale, Mayor of Pleasant Grove, reflecting on the event ten years later.

From one end of Pratt City to the other, lives were lost, homes and businesses were destroyed. Our church was leveled to the foundation. Some people lost everything they had, including their clothes. Starting that night, we knew we had to get busy getting people what they needed just to survive.

Pastor T. L. Lewis, Bethel Baptist Church, ten years after the tornado.

In Loving Memory

Tuscaloosa County

44 people were killed directly by the tornado in this county.

8 are listed as indirect deaths.

In Tuscaloosa
Minnie Acklin, 73
Ovella P. Andrews, 81
Scott Atterton, 23
Michael Bowers, 3
Loryn Alexandria Brown, 21
Samuel Brasfield, 50
Ta’ Christianna Dixon, 11 months
Danielle Downs, 24
Arielle Edwards, 22
MaKayla Edwards, 5
Melgium Farley, 58
Thomas Hannah, 74
Cedria Harris, 8
Keshun Harris, 5
Ashley Harrison, 22
Robert Gene Hicks, 83
Shena Hutchins, 26
Carolyn Ann Jackson, 50
Jacqueline Jefferson, 45
Leota Jones, 97
Tennie Mozelle Lancaster, 95
Lee Andrew Lee, 88
Yvonne Mayes, 61
Christian A. McNeil, 15 months
William Robert McPherson, 85
Zy’Queria McShan, 2
Melanie Nicole Mixon, 21
Perry Blake Peek, 24
Lola Pitts, 85
Colvin Rice, 78
Morgan Marlene Sigler, 23
Marcus Smith, 21
William Chance Stevens, 22
Justin Le’Eric Thomas, 15
Helen Wurm, 98

In Holt
Jeffrey Artis, 51
Jennifer V. Bayode, 35
Kaiden Blair, 7 weeks
Mary Darlene Bryant, 43
Helen Kemp, 80
Thelma May Bennett Krallman, 89
Davis Lynn “Gordo” Latham, 57
Velma T. LeRoy, 64
Dorothy Lewis, 61
Thomas D. Lewis, 66
Terrilyn Plump, 37
Kevin V. Rice Sr., 36
Annie Lois Humphries Sayer, 88
Patricia Hodo Turner, 55
Willie Lee “Trey” Turner III, 21

In Peterson
Hugh Graham Davie, 55
Judy Sherrill, 62

Jefferson County

20 people were killed directly by the tornado in this county.

In Concord
Janet Elaine Hall, 55
Garrett Lee Jones, 25
Jennifer Leonard Jones
Haley Alexis Kreider, 8
Michael David Kreider, 10
Michelle Pearson Kreider, 30
Ernest C. Mundi Jr., 53

In Pleasant Grove
Iva Mae “Nana” Cantrell, 73
James Jerry Clements, 66
Cheryl Denise Cooper, 47
Canatha Hyde Earley, 71
Reba Jones, 76
Carrie Grier Lowe, 26
Ramona Sanders-Walker, 47
Louella Bell Thomson, 81
Tracy Traweek, 39
Nancy Wilson, 56

In McDonald Chapel
Deniece Kemp Presley, 57

In Pratt City
Bessie Reynolds Brewster, 72
Kenneth Ray Nation, 64

A memorial dedicated to the victims in Tuscaloosa. Image from the City of Tuscaloosa.

Tornado Talk Podcast Episode 1

Video

Sources:

The Storm Prediction Center

April 2011 Storm Data Publication

NCDC Storm Events Database Entry-Greene County

NCDC Storm Events Database Entry-Tuscaloosa County

NCDC Storm Events Database Entry-Jefferson County

NWS Birmingham Event Page

Damage Assessment Toolkit

Google Earth

USGS

Tornado Memorial

Tuscaloosa Fatalities

Bill Murray

Spann, J. (2021). All You Can Do Is Pray. Crest Publishers.

Cross, K., & Bragg, R. (2016). What stands in a storm: a true story of love and resilience in the worst superstorm in history. Atria Books.

Alnewscenter. (2021, July 17). Alabama April 2011 tornadoes remembered: Pleasant Grove’s day of destruction. Vimeo. https://vimeo.com/539288259

Morton, J. (2020, April 26). ‘Nothing can make you forget’: Former Tuscaloosa News staffers recall 2011 tornado. Tuscaloosa News. https://www.tuscaloosanews.com/news/20200426/nothing-can-make-you-forget-former-tuscaloosa-news-staffers-recall-2011-tornado

Peralta, E. (2011, April 29). Obama In Tuscaloosa: ‘I’ve Never Seen Devastation Like This’. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2011/04/29/135842102/obama-in-tuscaloosa-ive-never-seen-devastation-like-this

Writer, L. S. A. S. (2012, April 27). Hospital staff recalls rush of patients on April 27. Tuscaloosa News. https://www.tuscaloosanews.com/article/DA/20120427/News/605151878/TL

YouTube. (2021, April 27). 10 Years Later: Tuscaloosa, April 27, 2011 Retrospective. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tR_nwAsQF_I

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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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