April 4, 1977, Smithfield F5 Tornado

This F5 tornado is named after the area which received the greatest damage: Smithfield Drive and Smithfield Lane.

The tornado began around 3 pm CST, 4 miles northwest of Birmingham near U.S. Highway 78, and then traveled northeast for 15 miles at 60 mph, crossing Interstate 65. At it's widest point, the tornado was 3/4 of a mile wide. Over 150 homes were damaged with almost 50 completely destroyed. A total of 22 people were killed with over 130 injured. This one storm alone caused over $25 million in damage ($83 million in today dollars). Daniel Payne College near U.S. Highway 78 sustained heavy damage from this massive tornado with estimates over $1 million dollars. The college, opened in 1880, later closed its doors in 1977, likely a result of the enormous cost and amount of damage. There were six other tornadoes on this day including five F2 tornadoes and an F3 tornado across North and Central Alabama.

Timely tornado warnings provided by the National Weather Service allowed people to take necessary action well ahead of the approaching storm. The new NOAA Weather Radio program played a huge role in the process. Warnings were broadcast live on the Birmingham KIH-54 transmitter which was just implemented five months prior to this event.

Many people do not know that the famous Dr. Theodore Fujita, for whom the Tornado Fujita Intensity Scale is named after, followed this massive tornado and supercell thunderstorm from an airplane. After tracking the storm, Dr. Fujita surveyed the damage and toyed with the idea of rating the Smithfield tornado an F6.

All of the images shown below were taken by J. B. Elliott, former Meteorological Technician with the National Weather Service (NWS), now retired from the NWS but living in the Birmingham area. Special thanks to JB for his help in describing the pictures.

A brief description appears with each thumbnail image. To view a larger image, simply click on the thumbnail itself.

Upper Air Sounding data from Centreville, Alabama can be found here.

Additional Weather Data can be found here.

Additional Pictures can be found here.

A Look Back at 1977

A Look Back at 1977

A Look Back at 1977

 

SMITHFIELD TORNADO, 1977

Click for a large image. Ground view of damage near US 31 and I-65. This is where the tornado moved onto a ridge and also the area of the newest and best built homes. The picture is looking generally northeast. After destroying almost everything on this street, the tornado emerged off the ridge and down a steep embankment in the vicinity of US 31 and I-65. At the time it left the ridge, two dump trucks were airborne in the funnel.
Click for a large image. Ground view of damage take toward the end of the path, the Smithfield part of the path. This view is about 1/2 mile west of where the funnel moved off the ridgetop and crossed US 31. Part of the path along the ridgetop was through a heavily wooded area where trees were chewed and uprooted into a mangled mass. Several cars were found in with the trees that were destroyed.
Click for a large image. Ground view of damage soon after the tornado was completely on the ground east of US 78.
Click for a large image. Aerial view of damage east of US 78 and approximately midway along the tornado track.
Click for a large image. Aerial view of damage east of US 78. The view is about a mile before the tornado moved down a ridgetop street of new and well built homes. This particular picture is of an older section of homes. In the left center of the picture a house was moved completely off it's foundation.
Click for a large image. Aerial view of damage east of US 78 and approximately midway along the tornado track.
Click for a large image.
Aerial view of a portion of the Smithfield tornado damage. Many of the homes in this subdivision represent F5 damage.
Click for a large image.
Second aerial view of a portion of the Smithfield tornado damage. Many of the homes in this subdivision represent F5 damage. Tornado path runs from lower right toward upper left of this image.

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