Top 10 Weather Events in the 20th Century For Alabama

Like most people, as we near the end of this century and look forward to the next, there is an interest in the most noteworthy events of the last 100 years. Meteorologists are no exception, so an attempt has been made to identify the "top 10 weather events" of this century for Alabama.

Since Alabama is so rich in weather history, this was no small task. What defines a "top 10" weather event? Is there a purely objective scientific method to identify and categorize these events? And the answer to these questions, to no one's surprise, is that there is no clear cut way to quantify the events of the last 100 years. So, using the collective corporate memory of meteorologists in the National Weather Service offices in Birmingham and Mobile, the following list has been compiled. The list represents the top 10 significant events this century presented in no particular order.

 

  • "The Storm of the Century," March 12-13, 1993
  • Tornado Outbreak of March 21, 1932
  • Tornado "Super Outbreak," April 3-4, 1974
  • 1980 Heat Wave
  • Killer Tornadoes of April 20, 1920
  • Oak Grove Tornado, April 8, 1998
  • Hurricanes of 1916
  • Hurricane Opal, October 4, 1995
  • Tropical Storm Alberto Flooding, July 3-8, 1994
  • Hurricane Frederic, September 12-13, 1979

A brief paragraph summarizing these events follows. Many events received consideration for inclusion in the top 10 list. Overriding consideration was given to the impact of the event either from the point of area affected or magnitude of the single event.

"The Storm of the Century" March 12-13, 1993

On the evening of March 12, 1993, a low pressure system began to strengthen in the Gulf of Mexico and move northeast. By the next morning, a snow storm of record proportions had blasted Alabama with more than a foot of snow in a band from Birmingham northeast to DeKalb and Cherokee Counties. Every square inch of the state received some measurable snowfall. The heavy snow along with 40 to 55 mph wind caused widespread power outages and brought most travel to a standstill. The final toll for Alabama included 14 deaths due to exposure, and an estimated $50+ million in damages. Links to data,

WW2010 University of Illinois.

Tornado Outbreak of March 21, 1932

The March 21, 1932, tornado outbreak is considered the worst tornado event in Alabama history. At least two waves of storms struck the state, producing at least 15 strong or violent tornadoes in which more than 300 people were killed. The single deadliest tornado in Alabama history occurred in this outbreak: a twister that killed 49 people on its 60 mile journey across Perry, Bibb, Chilton, Shelby, and Coosa counties.

Tornado "Super Outbreak" April 3-4, 1974

During the late afternoon and evening hours on April 3rd, at least 8 tornadoes, including 4 violent, long-lived storms, brought widespread destruction to northern Alabama. This tornado "Super Outbreak" that also affected 12 other eastern states caused over $50 million damage in Alabama, and 86 deaths. The F5 tornado, that nearly wiped the town of Guin off the map, was one of the most powerful twisters ever to strike the United States, and its path through the Bankhead National Forest could be seen on satellite pictures months afterwards. Click here for more.

1980 Heat Wave

From mid July, through mid September, 1980, a sustained period of extreme heat and high humidity took its toll on the state. In the month of July alone, there was an estimated 120 heat-related deaths along with the loss of more than 200,000 chickens and half the state's corn crop. The hottest day of the summer was July 17th, when over 80 percent of the state reached 100 degrees, and nearly one quarter of the state reached 105. The highest reading on that day was 108 degrees recorded in the cities of Bessemer, Aliceville, and Jasper.

Killer Tornadoes of April 20, 1920

In a spring filled with deadly tornadoes across much of the eastern U.S., an outbreak of at least three violent tornadoes struck north Alabama the morning and early afternoon of April 20th, 1920. The worst tornado of the day first touched down in eastern Mississippi. It stayed on the ground for 130 miles as it cut a swath across Marion, Franklin, and Colbert counties in Alabama. In another tornado that day, numerous homes were destroyed in the eastern Madison County communities of Gurley and Brownsboro. The final Alabama death toll reached 92 people with hundreds more injured.

Oak Grove Tornado April 8, 1998

A powerful, F5 tornado first touched down in eastern Tuscaloosa County and proceeded to cut a 30 mile long path of destruction into western Jefferson County. Many western Jefferson County communities were devastated including Oak Grove, Concord, Pleasant Grove, Edgewater, McDonald's Chapel, and Pratt City. The tornado lifted just a few miles before it would have reached downtown Birmingham and the Birmingham Airport. Thirty-two (32) people lost their lives making this the deadliest single tornado in Alabama since 1932. Click here for more.

Hurricanes of 1916

The hurricane season of 1916 was quite active, especially for the Alabama Gulf Coast and the city of Mobile. Three tropical storms affected the state that year. The first hurricane formed in the western Carribean and moved north, striking the Mississippi coast on July 5th. Near the end of the season, a second hurricane affected the Alabama coast, making landfall near the Alabama/Florida border. Both storms struck with maximum winds of 120 mph. A third dying tropical storm moved into southeast Alabama on September 13 and 14.

Hurricane Opal October 4, 1995

Hurricane Opal made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane, and quickly moved across the heart of Alabama the evening of October 4th, affecting virtually every county in the state. Due to its relatively fast movement, Opal was able to produce tropical storm force winds well inland, before the storm had a chance to weaken. Peak wind gusts ranging from nearly 100 mph in the south part of the state to more than 50 mph in the north, caused more than $100 million in damage and left over 2.5 million people without electrical power. Click here for more information via the National Hurricane Center or Here.

Tropical Storm Alberto Flooding July 3-8, 1994

After making landfall in Northwest Florida on July 3rd, Tropical Storm Alberto weakened to a Tropical Depression, and then became nearly stationary on the Alabama/Georgia border for 5 days. The 8 to 16 inches of rain it then produced in Alabama (and over 20 inches in Georgia) caused massive flooding in southeast Alabama, especially Coffee, Dale, Henry, Geneva, and Houston Counties. Over a thousand homes and businesses were either damaged or destroyed in these counties, as the Choctawhatchee and Pea Rivers flowed out of their banks.

Hurricane Frederic September 12-13, 1979

On the night of September 12th, 1979, the eye of Hurricane Frederic passed over Dauphin Island and then made landfall on the Alabama coast near Bayou La Batre. Peak wind gusts over 135 mph were felt along the Alabama coastline, and hurricane force gusts were felt as far inland as Choctaw County. Massive damage, totaling over $1 billion, was felt along the coast, and nearly 90 percent of the Mobile area lost electrical power due to the storm. After it made landfall, Frederic moved north along the Alabama/Mississippi border dropping from 3 to as much as 10 inches of rain along its path.

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