2011 Tuscaloosa–Birmingham tornado

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2011 Tuscaloosa–Birmingham tornado
EF4 tornado
Tuscaloosa tornado damage 27 April 2011.jpg
A flattened residence in Concord, Alabama after the EF-4 tornado
DateApril 27, 2011
Time4:43 – 6:14 pm CDT (UTC−05:00)
Casualties64 (+8 indirect) fatalities, 1500 injuries
Damages$2.4 billion (2011 USD)
Areas affectedTuscaloosa to Birmingham, Alabama, U.S. (part of a larger outbreak)
 
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2011 Tuscaloosa–Birmingham tornado
EF4 tornado
Tuscaloosa tornado damage 27 April 2011.jpg
A flattened residence in Concord, Alabama after the EF-4 tornado
DateApril 27, 2011
Time4:43 – 6:14 pm CDT (UTC−05:00)
Casualties64 (+8 indirect) fatalities, 1500 injuries
Damages$2.4 billion (2011 USD)
Areas affectedTuscaloosa to Birmingham, Alabama, U.S. (part of a larger outbreak)

The 2011 Tuscaloosa–Birmingham tornado was a large and violent EF4 multiple-vortex tornado that devastated portions of Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, Alabama, as well as smaller communities and rural areas between the two cities, during the late afternoon and early evening of Wednesday, April 27, 2011. It was one of the 355 tornadoes in the April 25–28, 2011 tornado outbreak, the largest tornado outbreak in United States history. The tornado reached a maximum path width of 1.5 mi (2.4 km) during its track through Tuscaloosa, and once again when it crossed Interstate 65 north of Birmingham, and reached estimated maximum sustained winds of 190 mph (310 km/h) shortly after passing through the city. It then went on to impact parts of Birmingham as a high-end EF4 before dissipating. The final rating of this tornado was a source of controversy, as some survey teams concluded EF5 damage, while others did not.[1] Officially, the tornado was rated EF4. This was the third tornado to strike the city of Tuscaloosa in the past decade, and the second in two weeks.

Meteorological synopsis[edit]

Day 1 convective outlook on April 27, 2011.

On April 23, the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) began monitoring the potential for a substantial severe weather outbreak in the extended range.[2] As a shortwave trough tracked across portions of the Mid-South and southeastern United States, moderate instability and strong wind shear ahead of a trailing cold front was expected to promote the development of supercell thunderstorms capable of producing tornadoes, large hail, and damaging winds.[3] Three days before the event, on April 25, the SPC issued a moderate risk of severe weather encompassing portions of central and eastern Kentucky, middle and eastern Tennessee, northeast Mississippi, central and northern Alabama, and northwest Georgia. Due to the combination of rich low-level moisture, strong shear, and focused large-scale ascent, there was relatively high confidence across the outlined area for strong tornadoes – a tornado rated EF-2 or higher on the Enhanced Fujita scale – and widespread damaging winds.[4] By the morning of April 27, the SPC upgraded to a high risk of severe weather,[5] noting that a dangerous tornado outbreak capable of producing several violent – an EF-4 tornado or stronger on the Enhanced Fujita scale – and long-track tornadoes was expected.[6][7]

Throughout the afternoon hours, in the wake of an earlier mesoscale convective system, the airmass across western and northern portions of Alabama began to quickly destabilize, with mixed layer Convective available potential energy (CAPE) estimated in the 2500–4000 j/kg range and low-level dewpoints of 70–72 °F surging northward from Louisiana. Meanwhile, the wind shear environment became substantially more favorable as a 80–100 kt mid-level jet ejected eastward into the region.[6] At 1:45 p.m. CDT (1845 UTC), a Particularly Dangerous Situation (PDS) tornado watch was issued for much of Alabama, northwest Georgia, southeast Mississippi, and southern middle Tennessee, with a >95% probability of at least two tornadoes and one or more strong tornadoes.[8] Shortly thereafter, at 3:09 p.m. CDT (2009 UTC), the National Weather Service office in Jackson, Mississippi issued the first tornado warning on the supercell that would eventually produce the Tuscaloosa–Birmingham tornado.[9]

The supercell produced a large wedge tornado in rural Greene County, Alabama which tracked towards neighboring Tuscaloosa County, downing numerous trees. The rapidly intensifying tornado moved towards southern and eastern portions of Tuscaloosa at around 5:10 p.m. CDT (2210 UTC) on April 27.[10][11] Debris from the tornado was reported to be falling from the sky across Birmingham over 20 miles (32 km) away in Jefferson County. Skycams operated by Tuscaloosa television station WVUA-CA (channel 7) as well as Birmingham Fox affiliate WBRC (channel 6), ABC affiliate WBMA-LD/WCFT-TV/WJSU-TV (channels 58, 33 and 40), and CBS affiliate WIAT (channel 42) captured video of the tornado as it struck Tuscaloosa (WIAT took home multiple awards including a regional Edward R. Murrow Award for "outstanding live coverage" during the event).[12]

The violent tornado entered the southwestern side of Tuscaloosa, completely destroying several stores and restaurants in a business district at the intersection of McFarland Boulevard and 15th Street, near the DCH Regional Medical Center. Many structures were reduced to rubble in this area, and vehicles were tossed and destroyed. Buildings were also reported destroyed on 35th Street, between Interstate 359 and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. As the tornado traveled east to 35th Street and Kauloosa Avenue, the Tuscaloosa Environmental Services and Cintas facilities suffered severe damage. Numerous homes and apartment buildings in the Rosedale and Forest Lake neighborhoods, as well as a P&P Grocery store in Rosedale, were devastated. Numerous fatalities occurred in that area. The tornado passed south of downtown Tuscaloosa and went on to tear through the eastern side of the city, leveling many homes and sweeping away a large section of the Chastain Manor Apartments (which were nailed, rather than bolted to their foundations). A well-anchored clubhouse on the property was mostly swept away and scattered into a pond, though the structure lacked interior walls. A nearby manhole cover was removed from a drain and thrown into a ravine.[13][14] Nearby Alberta Elementary School was also partially leveled before the tornado tore though the eastern Tuscaloosa suburb of Holt, leveling or sweeping away multiple homes. A marina on Holt Lake was significantly impacted, with numerous boats and a restaurant destroyed. Some boats were tossed over 100 meters in this area.[15][11][13][16] The tornado exited the Tuscaloosa city limits and continued through dense forest towards Birmingham, downing thousands of trees and destroying additional homes in rural areas. As the tornado crossed Hurricane Creek, a large metal railroad trestle was torn apart, and a 34-tonne (74,957 lb) metal truss support structure was thrown 100 ft (30 m) up a nearby hill.[17][18] The University of Alabama suspended its operations, cancelled its softball and rowing competitions as well as its final exams period, and postponed its commencement until August 6.[11][13][19]

The flattened Chastain Manor apartment complex in Tuscaloosa.

After causing massive timber damage in rural areas, the now massive tornado entered Jefferson County. Many stations, including WIAT, WBMA/WCFT/WJSU, WTVY (channel 4) in Dothan and WSFA (channel 12) in Montgomery, showed television cameras capturing the event as the tornado moved east-northeast across the western and northern suburbs of Birmingham around 6:00 p.m. CDT (2300 UTC). Several suburbs in the area sustained catastrophic damage from the tornado as it tore through the west side of Birmingham, resulting in multiple fatalities. The suburbs of Concord, Pleasant Grove, McDonald Chapel, Pratt City and northern Hueytown were devastated by the tornado as it moved northeast, flattening entire neighborhoods. Extensive wind-rowing of debris was noted in Concord and Pleasant Grove, and some homes were swept away (though much the debris remained next to the foundations and was not scattered, and most vehicles were not moved more than 15 feet). As the tornado moved across a coalyard, a 35.8-tonne (78,925 lb) coal car was thrown 391 ft (119 m) though the air.[18] The tornado then struck the suburb of Fultondale, causing EF2 damage to homes and businesses before dissipating northeast of Birmingham.[11][20] Surveys indicated high end EF4 damage from the tornado in Birmingham's western suburbs.[11]

The National Weather Service determined the path length of this violent tornado to be 80.7 miles (129.9 km) with a maximum damage path width of 1.5 miles (2.4 km). The tornado's most intense damage indicated peak winds of around 190 mph (310 km/h); therefore, it was given a final rating of EF4. Early reports from Tuscaloosa indicated 65 people were killed, with over 1,000 injured. However, this was revised to 64 deaths and more than 1,500 injuries.[11][21][22] President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama visited Tuscaloosa on April 29, taking a ground tour of some of the affected areas. Obama was quoted as saying that he has "never seen devastation like this." He stated further that he had already declared a federal state of emergency in Alabama.[23]

Aftermath[edit]

By the time the tornado lifted northeast of Birmingham, it had left behind a path of destruction of 80.7 miles (129.9 km) through Greene, Tuscaloosa and Jefferson counties. The tornado killed 64 people, including six University of Alabama students.[24] It caused approximately $2.4 billion of property damage, surpassing the 1999 Bridge Creek–Moore tornado as the costliest single tornado in United States history at that time. Less than a month later, however, this number was surpassed by the Joplin, Missouri EF5, which caused $2.8 billion in damage.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.norman.noaa.gov/nsww/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/LaDue_NSWW2012.pdf
  2. ^ Steve Goss (April 23, 2011). "Day 4-8 Severe Weather Outlook Issued on Apr 23, 2011". Storm Prediction Center. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved December 7, 2013. 
  3. ^ Steve Goss (April 24, 2011). "Day 4-8 Severe Weather Outlook Issued on Apr 24, 2011". Storm Prediction Center. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved December 7, 2013. 
  4. ^ Steve Goss (April 25, 2011). "Apr 25, 2011 0730 UTC Day 3 Severe Thunderstorm Outlook". Storm Prediction Center. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved December 7, 2013. 
  5. ^ Ryan Jewell (April 27, 2011). "Apr 27, 2011 1200 UTC Day 1 Convective Outlook". Storm Prediction Center. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved December 7, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Ariel Cohen; Richard Thompson (April 27, 2011). "Apr 27, 2011 1300 UTC Day 1 Convective Outlook". Storm Prediction Center. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved December 7, 2013. 
  7. ^ Ariel Cohen (April 27, 2011). "Public Severe Weather Outlook". Storm Prediction Center. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved December 7, 2013. 
  8. ^ John Hart (April 27, 2011). "Particularly Dangerous Situation (PDS) Tornado Watch 235". Storm Prediction Center. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved December 7, 2013. 
  9. ^ "Tornado warning". National Weather Service in Jackson, Mississippi. Iowa Environmental Mesonet National Weather Service. April 27, 2011. Retrieved December 7, 2013. 
  10. ^ Francis, Enjoli; Hubbard, Jeremy; Tanglao, Leezel (April 27, 2011). "Storms, Tornadoes Leave Dozens Dead in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee". ABC News. Archived from the original on April 28, 2011. Retrieved April 28, 2011. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f "Tuscaloosa-Birmingham EF-4 Tornado April 27, 2011". National Weather Service in Birmingham, Alabama. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2011. Retrieved July 15, 2013. 
  12. ^ "VIDEO: Alabama tornado". WOFL. April 28, 2011. Retrieved July 15, 2013. 
  13. ^ a b c Jim LaDue, Tim Marshall, and Kevin Scharfenberg (2012). "Discriminating EF4 and EF5 Tornado Damage" (PDF). National Weather Service Office in Norman, Oklahoma. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved June 26, 2013. 
  14. ^ https://ams.confex.com/ams/26SLS/webprogram/Manuscript/Paper211667/TCLmerged.pdf
  15. ^ https://ams.confex.com/ams/26SLS/webprogram/Manuscript/Paper211667/TCLmerged.pdf
  16. ^ Marshall, Tim. "Damage Survey of the Tuscaloosa-Birmingham Tornado on April 27, 2011". AMS. AMerican Meteorological Society. Retrieved December 24, 2013. 
  17. ^ "THE AFTERMATH: Staff accounts of the tornado". Tuscaloosa News. April 27, 2011. Retrieved July 15, 2013. 
  18. ^ a b McCaul, Eugene W.; Knupp, Kevin R.; Darden, Chris; Laws, Kevin. "Extreme damage incidents in the 27 April 2011 tornado superoutbreak". 
  19. ^ "Closings". Tuscaloosa News. April 28, 2011. Retrieved July 15, 2013. 
  20. ^ Ballisty, Tim; Dolce, Chris; Erdman, Jonathan (April 27, 2011). "Severe Weather: Track the Storms". Weather.com. Archived from the original on May 10, 2011. Retrieved April 27, 2011. 
  21. ^ "Event Details". National Climatic Data Center. Retrieved 28 December 2013. 
  22. ^ "Event Details". National Climatic Data Center. Retrieved 28 December 2013. 
  23. ^ Eyder Peralta (April 29, 2011). "Obama In Tuscaloosa: 'I've Never Seen Devastation Like This'". National Public Radio. Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Archived from the original on May 2, 2011. Retrieved April 29, 2011. 
  24. ^ Grayson, Wayne (May 4, 2011). "Six UA students included in list of tornado deaths". The Tuscaloosa News. Retrieved June 19, 2013. 

External links[edit]