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10 year anniversary of the April 2011 tornado outbreak

Updated: Apr. 27, 2021 at 3:58 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The tornado outbreak of April 25 - 27, 2011 ended up producing twice as many tornadoes as the April 1974 super outbreak. Three hundred five tornadoes were confirmed during that three-day stretch.

Over 20 of those tornadoes caused an estimated 326 fatalities during the outbreak making this the deadliest tornado outbreak since the April 3-4, 1974 Super Outbreak.

April 27th Tornado Tracks
April 27th Tornado Tracks(NOAA)

HERE IN THE MID-SOUTH: The first tornado-producing storms to move across the Mid-South developed in Southwestern Arkansas during the late afternoon hours of April 25. These storms developed ahead of a strong surface low pressure. The storms formed into a bow echo and produced damaging wind. The bow echo raced across central and eastern Arkansas and crossed the Mississippi River at around 10 p.m. The bow echo continued east and exited the Mid-South early in the morning on April 26.

Mid-South Tornado Tracks
Mid-South Tornado Tracks(NWS Memphis)

On April 26, the first supercells developed across eastern and southern Arkansas at around 3 p.m. ahead of the same cold front that the previous night’s storms formed on. One storm moved across Crittenden and Shelby counties between 5 and 7 p.m. These storms produced wind damage and large hail. This storm later produced tornadoes in Hardeman and Chester counties. Three additional supercells produced tornadoes, very large hail and wind damage across Phillips, Coahoma and Tunica counties during this same time frame.

By noon on April 27, all the elements began to come together for an extreme severe weather outbreak. Supercell thunderstorms marched across Northern Mississippi and clipped Hardin County, Tennessee, producing a preliminary total of eight tornadoes. The worst storm moved over Calhoun, Chickasaw, Monroe and Itawamba counties, producing two tornadoes that killed 22 people.

One of these two tornadoes was the EF-5 tornado that struck Smithville, Mississippi. One other supercell thunderstorm developed along the cold front in northeastern Arkansas. This storm produced four tornadoes over Craighead County. The worst storms finally pushed out of the Mid-South by 5:30 p.m. on April 27. In all, a total of 22 tornadoes were confirmed across the Mid-South over this three-day outbreak.

ALABAMA OUTBREAK ON APRIL 27TH: Alabama was the hardest-hit state. Two hundred forty Alabamian lives were directly lost, with thousands of others injured. The first wave of storms, a squall line, produced nearly three dozen tornadoes that morning. The midday round, a second squall line, produced a handful of tornadoes in north Alabama. By early afternoon, atmospheric ingredients came together for dangerous, rotating thunderstorms. Sixty-two tornadoes tracked across Alabama over an 18 hour period, cutting a damage path greater than 1,200 miles.

Alabama Tornado Tracks
Alabama Tornado Tracks(NWS Birmingham)

TUSCALOOSA TORNADO: A violent tornado moved through the heart of Tuscaloosa and the western Birmingham metro. It was on the ground for 90 minutes and almost 81 miles. The destruction along the path was devastating. Neighborhoods, shopping centers, apartment complexes, businesses, churches and schools were destroyed. Heavily trafficked intersections and densely populated neighborhoods were unrecognizable. Sixty-five people lost their lives along this path.

PHIL CAMPBELL TO HARVEST ALALABA EF-5 TORNADO: This tornado was on the ground for 132 miles, two hours and fifteen minutes. Thousands of trees were debarked, twisted, with nothing but trunks left. High tension power poles and trusses were destroyed knocking out power and cell phone signal for hundreds of thousands. Hackleburg, Phil Campbell, Oak Grove and Tanner, Alabama were devastated. In Hackleburg, the elementary, middle and high schools were all destroyed along with The Wrangler plant. A 25-foot section of pavement was sucked up in Phil Campbell and found 1/3 mile away. Well-built homes were razed, leveled to the ground and foundations swept clean. Hundreds of buildings were destroyed and hundreds of others significantly damaged.

The tornado cycled several times, weakening and re-strengthening again, before finally dissipating in Franklin County Tennessee.

Information and graphics c/o NWS Memphis, NWS Birmingham and NWS Huntsville.

Spencer Denton

WMC Action News 5 Meteorologist

First Alert Storm Tracking Team

Facebook: Meteorologist Spencer Denton

Twitter: @dentonwx

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