The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Tornado Outbreak 2011

December 28, 2011

Top Stories of 2011: Strange twists of April 27

- — In the weeks following the tornado outbreak of April 27, residents began bringing torn pieces of paper and muddy cancelled checks to The News Courier office.

But these items were not trash — they were dropped from the sky by the violent storms and brought to reporters out of curiosity or in hopes of finding the owner.

Some examples:

• Donna McPherson of Owens found a page from a yearbook showing students wearing basketball uniforms. The name of the school on the jerseys was Phil Campbell, a community 80 miles away.

• Lt. Brad Curnutt with the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office found a checkbook that belonged to a person who was killed by the EF5 in Phil Campbell.

• Jessie Cox found a utility bill from Smithville, Miss., — a town also struck by an EF5 on April 27, on Salem-Minor Hill Road and Keri Laurence found a Town of Smithville check in Coxey. Smithville is 128 miles from Athens.

• A.J. Price and Wes Hughes found a Hackleburg Housing Authority document at the Sportsplex.

Patty Bullion of Lester started a Facebook page called “Pictures and Documents Found After the April 27, 2011 Tornadoes” to help return items to their owners. It now has 98,800 followers posting prom photos, marriage certificates and Army discharge papers.

Travel of debris in tornadoes is common but it is more unusual for items to be found long distances from the storm, said John Snow, Regents’ professor at the University of Oklahoma, who studied the phenomenon of debris transport for three years. Often, though, the debris may be branches or leaves so people have no idea how far it’s traveled.

The majority of debris falls within a mile or two of the storm but Snow found in a study that a small fraction of debris can travel 100-150 miles. The items that travel long distances are sucked up into the funnel, traveling tens of thousands of feet into the air, before dropping back down to earth.

Here are a few of the stories reported in The News Courier after the storms:

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Tornado Outbreak 2011
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