April 8, 1998 Central Alabama Tornado Outbreak

There were three tornadoes that have been identified as being produced by one thunderstorm that moved across central Alabama Wednesday evening. The first tornado affected Pickens and Tuscaloosa counties, the second affected Tuscaloosa and Jefferson counties, and the third affected St. Clair County.

 

Clickable Map

 

Pickens/Tuscaloosa

The first of three tornadoes (map of tornado track) began in extreme eastern Pickens County, just southeast of Gordo, at 7:01 pm CDT. The tornado travelled on an east-northeast track moving into Tuscaloosa County around 7:05 pm CDT. The tornado stayed in a mostly rural area through it's life span crossing CR 21, moving just north of Lake Lurleen, crossing US 43, and dissipating at Lake Tuscaloosa just south of where SR 69 crosses the lake. The tornado ended at 7:29 pm CDT.

There were no reported deaths and only two injuries in Tuscaloosa County.

This tornado was rated an F3 and had a path length of 17.4 miles. Path width was estimated to be 250 yards wide.

 

Oak Grove Tornado, Jefferson County

The second tornado produced by the supercell thunderstorm is the most significant tornado to impact Alabama since 1977. It first touched down in eastern Tuscaloosa County at 7:42 pm CDT just east of the Warrior River and moved into Jefferson County at approximately 7:50 pm CDT.

Aerial surveys conducted by the National Weather Service with the help of the Alabama State Troopers Aviation Unit and the Civil Air Patrol determined that the tornado that ripped across west Jefferson County Wednesday night, April 8 th was an F5 tornado, the most violent tornado that occurs. F5 tornadoes have winds in excess of 260 miles per hour. The F5 tornado is highest rating for the most violent tornado. The Fujita Scale runs from F0 for the weakest to F5 for the most intense. Concord Tornado Memorial

The tornado track (map of tornado track) was approximately 30.6 miles long and at it's widest point was half a mile wide. After first touching down on the east side of the Warrior River in Tuscaloosa County, the tornado crossed into Jefferson County at 7:52 pm moving just south of the town of Scrap, just inside Jefferson County. It traveled east-northeast impacting Oak Grove, Concord, Pleasant Grove, Edgewater, McDonald's Chapel areas before ending in Pratt City. The storm reached it's strongest intensity producing F5 damage in the Concord area and the McDonalds Chapel/Edgewater area.

Interestingly, the tornado was on a trajectory that if it had stayed on the ground for an additional two or three miles the high rises in downtown Birmingham would have been affected; four more miles and the Birmingham Airport would have seen the destruction as well.

The latest death toll with this storm was 32, with more than 250 injuries. More than 1000 homes were destroyed and more than 900 homes with significant damage. This death toll places this tornado as the seventh deadliest tornado in Alabama, moving one ahead of a tornado which produced 31 deaths on March 21 st, 1932.

 

St. Clair County Tornado

In St. Clair County, the tornado began just north of Moody and continued on a east-northeast track (map of tornado track) for approximately 14.4 miles. This tornado was rated as an F2 on the Fujita Scale. Two deaths were reported in St. Clair County, both of them in one mobile home.

This tornado began just west of US 411 around 8:56 pm CDT and almost immediately destroyed the Bethel Baptist Church, a large portion of which was under construction. The tornado traveled through primarily rural, relatively unpopulated areas before dissipating at 9:15 pm CDT after moving through Wattsville.

 

Recap of Warnings

The Storm Prediction Center had the northern half of Alabama under a high risk of severe storms.

Tornado warnings were issued for Pickens County at 6:26 pm, for Tuscaloosa County at 7:01 pm, for Jefferson County at 7:45 pm and for St. Clair County at 8:49 pm. Based on the initial times of tornado occurrences and the times at which the tornadoes crossed county lines, the average advance warning time for these three tornadoes was 13 minutes. Warning lead times ranged from 34 minutes for the longest to 4 minutes for the shortest.

 
Images from Jefferson County Damage (click to enlarge) 
  Aerial photos
Oak Grove High School numerous houses damaged in west Jefferson County  numerous houses damaged in west Jefferson County 
apartment complex damaged in west Jefferson County numerous houses damaged in west Jefferson County St. Clair County the Bethel Church 
Tornado damage shown from above just west of the Oak Grove High School. Tornado damage shown from above of the Oak Grove High School. damage in west Jefferson County
damage in west Jefferson County damage in west Jefferson County house damage in west Jefferson County
Cars damaged. Wide spread damage. Church hallway.
 
Reflectivity and Velocity Images from the Event (click to enlarge) 
reflectivity at 0058 utc April 9, 1998 showing hook echo. storm relative velocity at 0058 utc April 9, 1998 4 panel reflectivity from the KBMX WSR-88D 0058 UTC April 9, 1998 4 panel storm relative velocity from the KBMX WSR-88D 0058 UTC April 9, 1998
Reflectivity image from KBMX at 0001 UTC April 9, 1998 Storm Relative Motion image from KBMX at 0001 UTC April 9, 1998 Reflectivity image from KBMX at 0159 UTC April 9, 1998 Storm Relative Motion image from KBMX at 0159 UTC April 9, 1998
 
Environmental Data from the Event (click to enlarge) 
Click for sounding at Shelby County Airport, Alabama.
Shelby County Airport
Click for sounding at Jackson Mississippi.
Jackson, Mississippi
 
1902 UTC Visible image April 8, 1998.
1902 UTC/202 PM CDT
1902 UTC Visible image April 8, 1998.
2002 UTC/302 PM CDT
1902 UTC Visible image April 8, 1998.
2045 UTC/345 PM CDT
 

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