In the late spring of 2011. America’s storm chasers saw some serious action. In mid-April a major weather system built up over the Rocky Mountains. It duly swept across the Southern USA, generating 52 hours of mayhem across 14 states, causing dozens of deaths and massive property damage. It was an almost unprecedented occurrence, with 155 separate tornadoes recorded and two states (Alabama and North Carolina) placed under a state of emergency along with many counties in Mississippi and Oklahoma.
But with the benefit of hindsight, this harrowing event seemed almost minor compared to the catastrophic natural disaster that followed, affecting much of the continental United States and reaching into Canada. Over five traumatic days, a violent series of 425 individual tornadoes rocked much of North America, from Texas in the south to Ontario in the north. Alabama – already reeling from Nature’s earlier fury – was hardest hit with around 250 deaths recorded. The first killer tornado struck Vilonia, Arkansas on April 24. Smithville, Mississippi was hit hard the following day, with 27 deaths and many seriously injured, along with the town’s virtual destruction. The outbreak reached its peak on April 27, devastating much of Alabama. In a potentially sinister echo of the nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi facility following the great earthquake and tsunami the previous month, a tornado came within a hair’s-breadth of the nuclear power plant at Browns Ferry on the Tennessee River, which had to be shut down after power lines were felled. As the tornadoes finally started to subside on the following day, huge areas were left without electricity… and a fearful legacy of death and destruction.
When: April 14-16 2011; April 24-28 2011
Where: United States – Eastern Seaboard. Midwest, South; Canada – Southern Ontario
Death toll: April 14-16, 43 (38 killed by direct tornado activity, the remainder by related straight-line winds); April 24- 28, 350 plus confirmed dead with others missing, presumed killed (by direct tornado activity or related causes such as lightning, flash floods or high winds).
You should know: April 27 was the deadliest day of tornado destruction in the USA for over 80 years, eclipsed only by the infamous Tri-State Tornado of 1925 that killed nearly 700 people. The only other comparable event was the 1936 Tupeio-Gainesville Tornado that claimed over 400 lives. But of one thing there can be no doubt – the April 2011 tornado outbreaks were the most costly in US history, with damage estimates going up to and beyond $5 billion.