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)

The April 2011 Super Outbreak occurred April 25-28.  Per an article by the National Center for Environmental Information, there were 362 tornadoes during that time frame that resulted in $11 billion in damages and an estimated 321 people lost their lives.  

Per the Storm Predication FAQ:  The greatest outbreak of tornadoes on record for a one day period ran from 12 UTC (7am CDT) April 27, 2011 until 12 UTC (7am CDT) on April 28.  During that 24 hour period, 175 tornadoes occurred.  

Here is the damage-rating breakdown:  

EF0: 59

EF1: 65

EF2: 20

EF3: 16

EF4: 11

EF5: 4

This loop covers the main body of the outbreak across the south, it starts late on the 26th of April as the first set of supercells with the main event developed in Texas. It continued through the 27th when the main event occurred and into the early hours of the 28th.  Radar via U.S. Tornadoes

Our summary explores one of the 4-catastrophic EF5 tornadoes that occurred on April 27, 2011.  A continuous tornado track was found that began west of Hamilton in SW Marion County, AL.  The tornado strengthened rapidly and hit the city of Hackleburg as an EF5 with estimated max winds of 210 mph.  

The tornado continued into Franklin County and hit the town of Phil Campbell and moved into the Oak Grove area.  The EF5 moved into Lawrence County near the Mt Hope Area and caused significant damage. Morgan, Limestone and Madison Counties in Alabama were also in the tornado’s path.  It crossed state lines into Lincoln County, TN and dissipated in Franklin County, TN.

Tornado Path

Click Map To Enlarge

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

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

Details from the NWS Damage Survey

Marion County (AL) – EF5:

The tornado touched down west of AL Hwy 19 near Sipsey Creek and moved northeast and crossed Corridor X/Future Interstate 22. Here it caused significant tree damage. The tornado strengthened north of Hamilton and caused roof damage to at least one home. The storm strengthened further as it approached US Hwy 43, southwest of Hackleburg, to a violent EF4 rating with winds estimated at 170 mph. The tornado tracked parallel to US Hwy 43 toward Hackleburg and strengthened more to an EF5 with winds up to 210 mph, as its path widened to 0.75 mile (1320 yds). Several subdivisions and businesses, Hackleburg High School, Middle School, and Elementary School, and the Wrangler Plant were destroyed. Vehicles were tossed up to 200 yards. One well built home with 4 brick sides was completely leveled and the debris from the home was tossed over 40 yards to the north. The tornado moved northeast of Hackleburg and continued to parallel US Hwy 43. It crossed into Franklin County just east of the highway. Along the damage path in Marion County, thousands of trees were downed, several hundred structures were damaged, and at least 100 of these structures were completely destroyed as many homes were leveled. Eighteen fatalities are attributed to this tornado in Marion County, as well as numerous injuries.

Franklin County (AL) – EF5:

A violent long track tornado continued it’s path from Marion County into southern Franklin County north of Hackleburg. Significant devastation occurred throughout the city of Phil Campbell. Prolific damage was noted from the intersection of CR 51 and Alabama Highway 237, to the intersection of CR 81 and CR 75. Within a two mile corridor of either side of the railroad tracks the damage was significant. Within this corridor, several well constructed houses were destroyed. Along Bonner Street, multiple block homes were leveled to the ground with the block foundations destroyed. A twenty-five foot section of pavement was sucked up and scattered. Chunks of the pavement were found in a home over 1/3 of a mile down the road. The damage in this area was consistent with EF-5 damage. 

In addition, at least three churches along the path sustained significant damage. One church in Phil Campbell was completely destroyed with only the slab remaining.

Multiple mobile homes throughout the path were completely destroyed, and their mangled frames were tossed 25 to 50 yards. Cars were tossed and destroyed throughout the path of the tornado, with one car wrapped around a debarked tree in Phil Campbell. All along the path length, thousands of hardwood and softwood trees were snapped. Hundreds of trees were also debarked and twisted, and had only stubs of the largest branches remaining. EF-5 damage continued similarly northeast from Phil Campbell, roughly along County Roads 81 and 82 toward the community of Oak Grove.

In Oak Grove, the tornado may have reached a relative maximum in intensity well into the EF-5 category as the damage was slightly more intense and the path width was at a maximum of greater than one mile. A large swath of complete devastation was noted in Oak Grove along County Roads 38 and Smith Lane. A large well-constructed home with extensive anchoring was razed with debris carried well away from the site. A Corvette sports car was mangled and thrown 641 feet (measured). A block home next door was also disintegrated. Along Smith Lane a block home was wiped out and the only remains of a nearby chicken house was a small piece of a metal truss. In this same area, the tree damage was significant and a large percentage of trees were stripped bare.

Lawrence County (AL) – EF5:

The violent tornado continued to track northeast from Franklin County into Lawrence County as an EF-5 near the Mt. Hope area where significant devastation was incurred to single family homes and a restaurant. Nothing but the foundation and a pile of debris remained in this area, and a small portion of the restaurant foundation buckled. Thousands of hardwood and softwood trees were snapped, with a significant number of trees twisted and debarked with only stubs of branches remaining. Many mobile homes were also destroyed with the frames mangled, and a single family home was completely destroyed with the walls and contents strewn over a hundred yards. Further northeast the damage was slightly less intense, with more trees snapped and twisted as the tornado reached Highway 24. At this location multiple chicken houses were completely destroyed with much of the debris wrapped around debarked trees. TVA high voltage power line trusses were also destroyed at this location. As the tornado continued northeast more significant damage occurred in and around the Langtown community north of Moulton. On the west side of Alabama Highway 33, several homes sustained significant damage with roofs missing or only interior rooms remaining. A nearby store and gas station also sustained significant damage. The tornado strengthened again to a high end EF-4 as it moved over County Roads 214 and 298, where multiple houses and mobile homes were completely destroyed. Several cars were tossed into fields and wrapped around trees along County Road 291 and 292. One vehicle was tossed into a large hardwood tree that was also debarked. Tree and mobile home damage continued along County Roads 217 and 222, where a handful of large high tension TVA power poles were destroyed. Sustained EF-4 damage continued northeast towards Alabama Highway 20, where a restaurant was completely destroyed and two single family houses were significantly damaged. Tree damage continued into extreme northeastern Morgan County.

Morgan County (AL) – EF3:

The tornado briefly crossed rural areas of Northwest Morgan County. High resolution MODIS satellite imagery combined with aerial surveys show a well-defined path of tree/vegetation damage between 1/2 and 3/4 mile wide indicative of low end EF-3 wind speeds of around 140 MPH. Just before crossing the Tennessee River into Limestone County, this tornado may have done some unconfirmed structural damage to a few buildings in an Industrial Park area along Mallard Fox Dr NW and Independence Ave.

Limestone County (AL) – EF4:

The violent tornado continued it’s path from the Tennessee River along the Lawrence/Limestone county line northeast through Tanner and into the east Central portion of Limestone County. Homes were completely obliterated along a wide swath in the Tanner community. Nearly a dozen high tension power lines were snapped or taken to the ground in Limestone County. Concrete power poles were also snapped off at their base. A subsequent ground team, aided by a storm survey expert from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, surveyed the most intense damage in Limestone County. High end EF-3 damage was noted over a large area in eastern Limestone County along and north of the East Limestone High School. The intensity was maximized in Limestone County in the community of Tanner, with a large swath of EF-4 damage and a narrow corridor of high end EF-4 damage. Several well-constructed homes with anchor bolting were completely wiped clean. One home had the debris lofted over 300 hundred yards with large items carried completely away. Intense ground scarring was noted in this area. In addition, a large cargo container was picked up and blown approximately 600 yards and several cars were carried airborne for hundreds of yards. In all, hundreds of homes received moderate to major damage along the path with many of these being total losses.

Madison County (AL) – EF4:

The tornado crossed in Madison County east of Limestone County Prison along Orvil Smith Road with a path width of 1/2 mile. The tornado maintained an EF-3 strength with winds of 140 to 160 MPH and a path width between 1/4 and 1/2 mile for much of its track northeast across Old Railroad Bed Road and Ford Chapel Road, before narrowing to around 300 yards in Anderson Hills. Dozens of well-constructed homes were destroyed, in some cases with all exterior walls collapsing in both single and two-story homes. At least 3-5 mobile homes were either destroyed or swept completely clean with no evidence of debris. At least 2 other well-constructed homes had complete wall collapse in Anderson Hills and were shifted off their foundation. This damage was once again consistent with low end EF-4 wind speeds of around 170 MPH.

Numerous tall pines and other hardwood trees were snapped, uprooted and debarked along the entire path. The path width widened once again to around  mile as the tornado tracked through residential areas along Bald Eagle Lane, Old Eli Road and Ginnery Row. At least 2 of these homes had complete wall collapse, but these structures had foundation straps and nails in lieu of bolts. At least one fatality was confirmed at one of these residences. Eight additional fatalities occurred in Madison County along the track of this violent tornado. The damage was consistent with high end EF-3 wind speeds between 140 and 160 MPH. The tornado lifted just south of the Patterson Lane after twisting irrigation equipment and snapping additional trees. Just to the northeast of this location, the tornado touched down again as an EF-0 tornado with peak wind speeds of 70 MPH. Along Grimwood Road and Walker Lane, south of Hazel Green, the tornado uprooted and snapped several trees. The tornado weakened or may have lifted briefly across extreme northeast Madison County before re-strengthening again as it entered Lincoln County in Southern Middle Tennessee.

Lincoln County (TN) – EF0:

A long track tornado continued it’s path into southeast Lincoln County producing minor EF-0 damage. Damage was confined to a few trees snapped along and south of Mountain Road.

Franklin County (TN) – EF3:

A long track tornado continued from southeast Lincoln County. The tornado produced damage south of Huntland. Isolated and minor EF-0 tree damage was noted at the intersection of John Hunter Highway (State Route 122) and Limestone Road near the Lincoln/Franklin County line.

More significant damage was noted, starting about 1.4 miles south southwest of Huntland. A cinder block building suffered damage to its flat adobe roof, with some of blocks near the roof (around 20 feet off of the ground) pushed out, resulting in EF-2 damage. Surveyors could not directly examine the roof given this building was on the highest ground in the vicinity. Nearby, a single family home of cinder block construction had its roof totally removed, with another home about 1000 feet away having significant roof damage, with over one half of its roof removed, and some shifting off of its foundation. Damage with the latter was consistent with high end EF-2 damage. A chicken building with metal girding, nearby the second home, was completely flattened, consistent with EF-2 damage. A farm complex south of Hickory Grove Road had damage to a number of structures there. The home and the main car garage had part of their roofs removed. A barn that was protecting bales of hay was destroyed, with a few bales blown approximately 100-200 feet from their original location. The worst damage was noted with lower end EF-3 damage to a cinder block utility building about 200 feet south of the primary residence. Most of its roof was removed, with over half of its downwind wall pushed outward. An older barn nearby suffered lesser EF-0 damage to its roof, while the top half of a silo near that barn was missing. Another barn structure was completely destroyed northwest of the primary home. The width at this point was approximately 1/4 mile. Other damage was noted near the intersection of Hickory Grove Road and Sugar Cove Road, with EF-1 damage to some heavy farm equipment and EF-0 roof damage to a nearby barn. Scattered trees were downed to the northeast, with 8 inch fence posts, anchored 18 inches deep, pulled up near Hickory Grove and Buncombe Road. There was evidence the tornado continued toward the mountains a few miles further east, with some trees damaged along the ridge.

Radar Video via NWS Birmingham

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0.5 degree reflectivity data from KGWX.  1st hook feature moves into Hackleburg & Phil Campbell, followed by Smithville, MS to near Hodges, and a 3rd into Haleyville.  Via NWS Birmingham.

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0.5 degree storm relative velocity data from KGWX.  1st hook feature moves into Hackleburg & Phil Campbell, followed by Smithville, MS to near Hodgest, and a 3rd into Haleyville.  Via NWS Birmingham.

Tornado Picture via extremeplanet.me

Near Phil Campbell

Damage Photos from the NWS Birmingham & Huntsville

Hackleburg High School.
The Piggly Wiggly and Family Dollar in Hackleburg
The intersection of County Road 172 and Alabama Highway 43, looking to the northwest.
Brick home was wiped off its foundation and the debris tossed 40+ yards across the path of the storm.
Pavement scoured off the surface along Brown Street in Phil Campbell.
Damage near Phil Campbell
Looking eastward at the remains of a house on Oliver Street in Phil Campbell, AL (Franklin County)
A large piece of metal was lodged in the trunk of this snapped tree near the intersection of Orvil Smith Rd and Smith Vassar Rd.
The washing machine seen in front of this home had been launched from a neighbor's home into the front door .


Newspaper Clippings

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