The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

September 15, 2011

Final April 27 stats: Storm death won't change state count

By Kelly Kazek

— The death of an 81-year-old Tuscaloosa man is being indirectly attributed to the EF4 tornado that struck the city on April 27 but the official statewide death toll for that day will remain at 247.

The June 5 death of Calvin Hannah, who was retired after working for The Tuscaloosa News as a photographer for 45 years, was linked to the storm by relatives who spoke to the Tuscaloosa mayor’s office, according to the Associated Press. Tuscaloosa’s official death toll now stands at 51. The mayor’s office says 42 of those people suffered injuries related to the storm, while others had health problems related to the trauma of coping with the aftermath of the twister, the AP said.

Yasamie August with the Alabama Emergency Management Agency said because Hannah’s death was not directly attributed to the storm, the official toll would not change.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., recently released its totals for the unusually high number of twisters that struck the state and nation in April.

According to Greg Carbin with the Storm Center, 202 tornadoes were confirmed in 14 states on April 27, causing 316 fatalities, with the majority of deaths occurring in Alabama.

The tornadoes struck Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia. The April 27 twisters caused 2,777 injuries nationwide and led to $4.7 billion in damages.

Weather during the entire month of April was unusually active, Carbin said. Including those that struck on April 27, the Storm Center confirmed 751 tornadoes in 28 states, which caused 360 fatalities, 3,489 injuries and a conservative estimate of $6.1 billion in losses.

In Alabama, 62 twisters struck on April 27 alone, including seven that struck Limestone County. Two EF5s hit that day, one that passed through Limestone and one in DeKalb County.

Carbin said the totals for twisters by scale during the entire month of April are: EF0, 55; EF1, 77; EF2, 34; EF3, 20; EF4, 12; EF5, 4 — two of which struck in Alabama, and two in Mississippi.

In 1971, Dr. Theodore Fujita created a scale to rank the intensity of tornadoes using estimated wind speeds based on damage to structures. In 2007, scientists upgraded the scale because Fujita’s did not take into account the sturdiness of structures. For example, it would require less wind to level a mobile home than a two-story brick home. The new scale, called the Enhanced F-scale, also includes assessment of damage to vegetation. Wind speeds for the new scale are: EF0 tornado, 65-85 mph; EF1, 86-100 mph; EF2, 111-135 mph; EF3, 136-165 mph; EF4, 166-200 mph; EF5, 200 plus mph.

EF5 tornadoes are rare but Alabama has experienced the most in the nation with seven, followed by Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Kansas with six each. However, not all scientists agree that one of those seven was an F5. Meteorologists agree that Alabama also was struck by two F5s during the Super Outbreak of April 3, 1974, when 143 tornadoes struck 13 states. One struck Tanner and another leveled the small town of Guin. The Storm Prediction Center states that the twister that hit Mount Hope that day also was an F5. Alabama’s remaining F5s struck in Birmingham on April 4, 1977 and April 8, 1998.

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Here is a breakdown of April 27 EF5s:

• Smithville, Miss.: This twister was on the ground for 75 miles and resulted in 22 deaths. Much of the town was destroyed. Bills and checks with Smithville addresses were found more than 120 miles away in Limestone County in the days after the storm.

• Hackleburg-Tanner-East Limestone-Harvest, Ala.: The storm that began near Hamilton stayed on the ground for 132 miles, leveling Hackleburg and hitting more than 700 homes in Limestone County and another 300 in Madison County. Four people died in Limestone County, and nine in Madison County. The twister, which had winds up to 210 mph, killed as many as 78 people along the entire path. Jeans from the VF Co. Wrangler distribution plant in Hackleburg were found scattered across Limestone County, their tags still in place.

• Philadelphia, Miss.: This EF5 was on the ground for 29 miles and killed three people.

• Rainsville, Ala.: This twister killed 26 people in DeKalb County along its 33.8-mile path. Total deaths from twisters in DeKalb on April 27 were 33. It was initially ranked an EF4 but was upgraded based on ground surveys following the storm.

On May 22, an EF5 struck Joplin, Mo., staying on the ground for 12 miles through the center of town. The death toll in Joplin stands at 162, making it the deadliest single twister in at least six decades. The deadliest individual tornado in the country’s history was the Tri-State Tornado that struck Missouri, Illinois and Indiana on March 18, 1925, killing 695 people, with 613 of those deaths occurring in Illinois.

The nation had a break from F5 and EF5 tornadoes between 1999 — when Moore, Okla., was struck — and May 4, 2007, when Greensburg, Kan., was leveled.