April 27th, 2011: 10 Years Later

April 27th, 2011 will go down in history as the deadliest tornado outbreak in US history. In Alabama alone, a record 62 tornadoes touched down that day, causing $11 Billion in damage, and killing 252. Join me as we take a look at what was April 27th, 2011.

Before I tell the story of this unfortunate day, let me explain an important scale used to measure the severity of tornadoes. It is called the Enhanced Fujita Scale. This scale, created by Dr. Theodore Fujita, is a scale in which we determine the severity of tornadoes. The way a tornado is measured is based on the damage it causes. It used to be wind speed but was updated. Let’s go over each category:

EF-0: The weakest tornado on this scale, the only damage this may cause is small tree limbs knocked down and some roof tiles are blown off. The wind speeds here are generally between 65-85 mph.

EF-1: These tornadoes usually cause broken windows, door damage, and even cause mobile homes to be overturned. The winds here are around 86-110 mph.

EF-2: These tornadoes cause more significant damage, causing roofs to be completely blown off of homes, mobile homes are destroyed, and large trees are snapped. The wind speeds here are around 111-135 mph.

EF-3: The first significant rank on this scale, these tornadoes cause entire stories of homes to be destroyed, and cause significant damage to large buildings. The wind speeds are around 136-155 mph.

EF-4: These violent destructive tornadoes cause well-constructed homes to be completely leveled, and can throw cars a very long distance. The wind speeds are around 166-200 mph.

EF-5: The strongest type of tornado on this scale, these tornadoes completely sweep away well-constructed homes and can de-bark large trees, basically, these tornadoes can wipe out a small town. The wind speeds here exceed 200+ mph.

Now that we have an understanding of how this scale works,

The morning of April 27th started strong, with a line of storms coming into the state, with embedded cells that spawned tornadoes. From 3 am local time, up till about 9 am, this line moved through, spawning tornadoes left and right. The morning storms killed 5 people, left a quarter of a million people without power, and had spawned a total of 29 tornadoes. Once the state settled down and began to clean up the debris, there was still more to come during the afternoon hours.

At 1:00 pm local time, the Strom Prediction Center (SPC) had issued a rare High-Risk zone for the northern half of the state. The air was so ripe for the development of large and violent tornadoes. These tornadoes were the kind to stay on the ground for a long period of time. The morning storms may have been bad, but it was about to get worse.

The National Weather Service in Birmingham issued the first tornado warning a little after 2:00 pm local time, and this tornado went through the city of Cullman, Alabama, going right through downtown. This tornado would be rated an EF-4, because of the significant damage caused. This twister was captured by ABC Birmingham affiliate ABC 33/40 on their SkyCamera system. Skipping ahead to 4:00 pm local time, the deadly Hackleburg EF-5 tornado touched down and swept through the small community of Hackleburg, wiping the town seemingly off the map. This tornado continued into the Tennesse Valley region of Alabama, sweeping through small communities such as Tanner, Athens, Phil Campbell, and eventually the northern suburbs of Huntsville, AL. This was the deadliest tornado of that day.

Then, 5:00 pm local time hit. A violent EF-4 tornado went right through the southern and eastern limits of the city of Tuscaloosa, AL, barely missing the University of Alabama campus, but did clip University Mall and some of the off-campus apartment complexes. Damage from this tornado went as far as 150 miles away, due to the severity of the tornado. At the same time, another massive EF-4 tornado swept through the small communities of Cordova, Dora, Sumiton, Sipsey, and Empire. These communities were already hit hard by the morning batch of storms, and it got worse with this tornado. This same tornado nearly hit the community of Blountsville but lifted before it got there.

Under an hour later, the same tornado that swept through Tuscaloosa tore through the western and northern suburbs of downtown Birmingham, the largest city in the state. At this point, the tornado was 1 mile wide. Around 6:20 pm local time, the behemoth tornado lifted north of Birmingham, but down to the southwest, things were ramping up fast. The south of Tuscaloosa was another significant tornado that tore through Sawyerville, Centreville, and Brent. The path was reminiscent of another tornado that tore through the area on May 27th, 1973. This tornado was given a rating of EF-3. After this tornado lifted, the spin-up risk was still very high, and at one point, the National Weather Service in Birmingham took shelter and the NWS in Mobile (along the Gulf Coast of Alabama) had to take over.

At about 6:40 pm local time, the same parent storm that produced the EF-4 monster that tore through Tuscaloosa and the Birmingham suburbs produced yet another EF-4 tornado in the communities of Argo, Ashville, Ragland, Ohatchee, among others, before moving into Georgia about 90 minutes later. This parent storm was one of the most dangerous systems of that day, mainly because of the damage it had caused and the lives it took in the process.

The final tornado of the day touched down near the community of Clanton, but this was a very short-lived tornado, as it lifted after only being on the ground for 2 minutes. This was obviously given an EF-0 ranking. Thus, the tornado outbreak of April 27th, 2011 was finally over. But what were the overall totals of deaths and damage?

The April 27th, 2011 Super Tornado Outbreak took the lives of 252 people that fateful day, causing $11 billion in damages, and changed the way we see the weather in general. This day was an example that an outbreak can happen at any time and anywhere without warning. In the broader picture, this day caused a grand total of 218 tornadoes in a line from Mississippi to southern Ontario in Canada.

Why is a kid from Toronto, Canada that’s residing in Massachusetts care about a tornado outbreak that affected a state so far away? Because this is a lesson that can be taught to anyone anywhere in the world as a prime example of “What If”. It is always important to stay safe, and should we come under a tornado warning, the best thing to do is either get into a basement or the lowest floor of a sturdy building in the center away from windows, get out of a mobile home and find shelter in a more sustainable building and do not drive at any point.

I hope everyone has a safe rest of the semester and good luck on all of your final exams.

Source used in article: https://04272011-noaa.hub.arcgis.com/

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