The April 27, 2011 Cullman County tornadoes: official reports

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(Map courtesy of the National Weather Service)

CULLMAN COUNTY, Ala. – April 25-28, 2011 saw a super outbreak of approximately 350 tornadoes produced by a single longterm event of related systems from Texas to Virginia. Of those storms, 199 occurred in one 24-hour period on April 27, which included 62 in Alabama. A 2014 article in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society called that one day’s outbreak, which killed 316 people, injured over 2,700 and produced over $4 billion in insured losses alone, “the most significant since the dawn of reliable records.” 

Between 5:48 a.m. and 7:13 p.m. on April 27, 2011, Cullman County was struck by four tornadoes ranging from a tiny EF-0 to two massive EF-4 storms. Following are the National Weather Service Huntsville (NWSH) official reports on those events. 

5:48-6:20 a.m. – An EF-2 tornado moved along a 30.32-mile path with multiple touchdown points from near Cold Springs through Hanceville, Center Hill and North Walter, passing near Holly Pond on its way into northeast Cullman County. The storm produced one half-mile wide path of destruction, with 120 mph peak wind speeds. 

NWSH record:  

A weak tornado touched down east of Cold Springs, toppling and snapping numerous trees. Several sheds sustained minor damage in this early part of the track. The storm crossed Highway 69 where it damaged a large shed. Additional damage was noted as the tornado tracked northeast across County Road 46, where trees continued to be snapped and damage sustained to many chicken coops, some of which collapsed. After crossing Interstate 65 just south of Dodge City, additional chicken coops and trees were damaged along the path of the storm. The tornado then increased in strength as it approached Wallace State College in Hanceville, where winds were estimated to peak at 120 mph (EF-2 intensity). Eight large metal power poles were bent over just above the base and several campus buildings had significant portions of metal roofing torn off. A mid-rise under construction had its windows blown out, while the high-rise building sustained additional minor damage. The connected construction crane remained standing. To the south of the main track, in Hanceville proper, significant numbers of large pine, poplar and other hardwood trees were toppled onto houses. The roof of the high school gym in town was partly destroyed and additional small buildings near downtown Hanceville sustained damage. The tornado continued its track northeast from Hanceville, nearly paralleling Highway 91. Between Center Hill and Walter, large hardwood trees were found snapped and twisted. In addition, along County Road (CR) 645, a barn was nearly destroyed. Continuing northeast along a path, just south of Holly Pond along Highway 91, a portion (1/3 to 1/2) of a residential shelter or shed was destroyed and a portion of a chicken house was badly damaged. Additional damage was seen along CR 1742 and 1753, several miles northeast of Holly Pond, and along Highway 231 in extreme northeast Cullman county. This damage is considered to be with the same complex of storms that rolled across the area during the early morning hours April 27th, however, there is too much distance between damage points to be considered one long track tornado. 

2:40-3:38 p.m. – An EF-4 multiple-vortex tornado moved on a 47-mile track from near Smith Lake through Cullman, north of Simcoe and Fairview, and into Morgan and Marshall Counties, with a onemilewide path of destruction and 175 mile per hour peak wind speeds. 

 

NWSH record:  

A long-track tornado went from southwest to northeast across Cullman County before tracking into Morgan and Marshall Counties. Some light damage occurred on the north side of Smith Lake along CR 310. More significant damage was observed to the northeast along CR 222 and along CR 436 near Grandview, where significant structural damage occurred to several residences and numerous large trees were snapped. The tornado continued to track northeast toward the town of Cullman where some of the worst damage occurred just northeast of Highways 31 and 278. Several small retail buildings were completely destroyed along with near total destruction of a large church in downtown Cullman. The tornado continued its track northeast, crossing Highway 157, then creating additional damage north of Highway 69 between Simcoe and Pleasant View. Just north of Fairview along CR 1559 and CR 1564, two homes were destroyed with significant portions of the homes not found. Further northeast along CR 1589, major structural damage occurred to several old (early 1900s) homes and numerous hardwood trees were debarked. Outside of the city of Cullman, significant damage occurred in a 1/4-1/2milewide corridor north of Highway 69, between Fairview and the Cullman/Morgan county line. The tornado crossed out of Cullman County briefly into extreme southeast Morgan County near the town of Hulaco. Significant damage occurred between Hyatt Bottom Road and Blocker Road, just east of Highway 67. Several cinder block and old construction homes were destroyed, and numerous trees were snapped and sheared toward the base. 

Significant damage from the long-track tornado continued into northwest Marshall County. The worst of the damage occurred from the Morgan/Marshall county line, along Hog Jaw Road, northeast to Highway 231 (about 3 miles north of Arab). Along Hog Jaw Road, a large storage shed with farm equipment was destroyed and some of the large machinery was tossed 10 to 20 yards away from the shed. Closer to the town of Ruth, Mount Oak and Frontier Roads were hardest hit. In this neighborhood, a cinder block/cement home was nearly wiped clean and debris from this home was thrown about 50-100 yards away. A trailer was missing and a metal bolted garage was wiped clean of its foundation. Along Frontier Road, a large brick home was nearly wiped clean off its foundation with several large trees ripped out of the ground and missing. Further northeast along the path, along Walnut Ridge, a one-story home was severely damaged with the roof missing and a trailer was tossed about 100 yards and into a tree. Several concrete power poles were bent over as the tornado crossed Highway 231, some bent at the base. On the east side of Highway 231, a Jet Pep gas station building was completely demolished and two gas pumps were ripped from the ground and missing. Surprisingly, the canopy over the pumps remained mostly intact. The tornado then continued toward Union Grove. The degree of damage weakened somewhat, but several homes had significant damage where the top stories and roofs were destroyed along with some external walls collapsed. Along CR 240, a double wide manufactured home was destroyed and large garage collapsed while the well-built roof remained intact. The tornado then significantly weakened as it crossed the Tennessee River. On the other side of the river, the tornado snapped and uprooted numerous trees as it crossed Walker Road and just across Hwy 431 before finally lifting just northeast of 431. 

5:06-5:24 p.m. – An EF-4 tornado moved along a sixmile track across the southern tip of Cullman County south of Arkadelphia, part of an extreme long-track tornado that traveled from Pickens County through Tuscaloosa, Fayette, Walker, Cullman and Blount Counties before ending in Marshall County. In Cullman County, the storm created a quarter mile wide path of destruction with 170 mph peak wind speeds. Overall, this tornado ran a course 127.8 miles long, leaving 13 dead and 54 injured. 

NWSH record:  

A large tornado tracked into the Huntsville County Warning Area (CWA) across the very southern tip of Cullman County, from about three miles southwest of Arkadelphia to just over two miles ESE of Arkadelphia. This tornado then tracked out of the Huntsville CWA into Blount County. In Cullman County, a wide swath of pine and hardwood trees was found snapped at the bases or splintered several feet off the ground, with some debarking of trees. South of Hwy 91 along Washington Loop, several homes were damaged or destroyed. A mobile home was obliterated and the frame was found at least 200 yards to the east up a hill. A cinder block home was wiped out, with the contents landing across the road, while the cars nearby were tossed. A truck landed in a nearby hollow at least 50 yards away while a sedan was smashed as it landed about 130 yards away. Farming equipment in a barn was displaced into the hollow, including a hay baler and a tractor. The storm shelter by the residence was partially lifted and damaged. The person inside received minor injuries. Additional homes and buildings nearby were destroyed and only a few trees were left standing or not debarked. The main damage path was fairly well confined, as a wellbuilt home just at the edge of the track only sustained minor roof damage.  

West Point/Interstate 65 

(No NWS image available) 

7:09-7:13 p.m. – An EF-0 tornado moved from northeast of West Point toward Interstate 65 along a 1.19miletrack, with a 100 yard wide path of destruction and 80 mph peak wind speeds. 

NWSH record:  

This short-lived tornado touched down nearly four miles northeast of West Point and tracked northeast across Interstate 65, just north of the CR 1282 overpass. Snapped and uprooted trees were seen falling toward the center of the circulation along CR 1282, with a convergent pattern of damage (mainly smaller trees) noted along CR 1264, just west of I-65. The damage continued on the east side of I-65 along CR 1281, where several trees were snapped and uprooted and a house porch was damaged. Little additional damage connected to this tornado was seen northeast of this point along Highway 31. 

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com