The first of the tornadoes that occurred in northern Alabama on April 24, 1908, developed in southeastern Walker County during the early afternoon, and at about 2:40 p. m., central time, destroyed the settlement of Bergens on the Northern Alabama Railroad, 28 miles northwest of Birmingham. In its early stage the storm crossed a sparsely settled district, advancing in a northeasterly direction and causing havoc over a track three-quarters of a mile wide. It was not until the storm was joined, about a mile southwest of Bergens, by another black mass of clouds, smaller in extent and moving in a more easterly direction, that it developed its greatest violence. Continuing on a northeast course the tornado ravaged a territory nearly a mile wide, but encountered few dwellings until it struck the hill ranges of Dora. Here the path of destruction narrowed down to about 3,000 feet.
Dora is a town of about 2,000 inhabitants and rather extended limits, partly situated in the valleys formed by three hill ranges running southeast-northwest. The business portion of the town is built alongside the railroad track between the central and northern hills, both about 160 feet high, while the southern valley is occupied by farmers and miners. Southeast of the hills, within earshot of the sheltered Dora habitations lies Bergens.
The claim of the Dora people that the hills saved their town from destruction induced the writer to spend a day and a half in exploring the storm track around Dora. The result is embodied in the accompanying diagram.
Fig. 1 shows that had the path of destruction remained as wide as it was to the southwest it would have embraced the whole eastern half of Dora, and also that it again widened out to its earlier width when the storm past beyond the northernmost of the Dora hills. As it was, however, the central path past over Bergens, while on the west side the path of destruction narrowed to one-half its original width so that only on the Dora hilltops were trees uprooted. The eastern side of the path of destruction continued uninterrupted a half mile wide.
On the forenoon of the 24th the weather had been cloudy and squally. A slight shower occurred shortly after noon. The uniform, light gray appearance of the sky an hour before the storm, set people to wondering what would happen next. Some predicted rain, but there was no sign of rain. The unusual weather conditions were the topic of conversation everywhere. Some one suggested a coming tornado, tho he had never experienced one, and for want of a better explanation of the prevailing conditions this idea was generally adopted. But the people were woefully ignorant as to the character of a tornado and the direction from which to expect it. Had they known, probably no lives would have been lost. From unobstructed viewpoints the meeting of the two clouds had been observed half a minute before the storm arrived, but most of the people of Bergens can only recollect seeing the cloud coming, rushing to their houses for shelter (there were no tornado cellars), and having their houses blown down; all this happening within the space of fifteen seconds.
The cloud is generally described as a dense coal-black mass with a whitish top, reaching to the ground. To some its central mass, between the top and the ground, seemed to revolve around a horizontal axis. Some observers noticed the cloud had a distinct funnel shape as it retreated into the distance. The tornado was attended by lightning and hail, some hailstones measuring three-quarters of an inch in diameter. The rain was light until some minutes after the cloud had past, when a heavy shower of short duration occurred. The roar caused by the storm was so deafening that no mere sound of crashing buildings could be heard.
Of the first group of ten houses, situated within 500 feet of the depot, eight were totally destroyed, including the depot, while one building almost in the center of the group escaped without any damage, and a substantially built two-room house was thrown bodily on the railroad track 75 feet away from its foundation. Farther on all the dwellings, the store, and the church of Bergens were razed to the ground. Of ten empty box cars standing on a side track of the Empire Road three were overturned and the other seven were blown toward the center of the storm track, some heavy parts being carried 100 feet away to a low hill. In the southeastern portion of the path all the tall trees were either blown down or snapt off at from 10 to 20 feet above the ground, and every house sustained heavy damage. At Bergens six persons were killed outright and two died of their injuries on the same day; the other injured number sixteen. Twenty-seven houses were totally destroyed and fifteen more or less damaged. The property destroyed was valued at about $50,000.
From Bergens the tornado progressed toward the northeast, with a path three-quarters of a mile wide. The few dwellings in its way were badly damaged, and at Old Democrat, a village 4 miles northeast of Dora, several houses were blown down and two persons were killed.
W.F. Lehman, Observer Birmingham, Ala May 28, 1908
Monthly Weather Review Volume 36 Issue 5 May 1908 Page 183
Dora Mine Damage Page 123