A powerful storm system roared across the southeastern United States on Wednesday, April 27, 2011. This storm system spawned 39 tornadoes in the NWS Huntsville Forecast Area and a total of 62 tornadoes in the state of Alabama. This system also produced extensive flash flooding, large hail, and straight line wind damage as well. However, this event will always be remembered as a tragic tornado event which produced more strong (EF2-EF3) to violent (EF4-EF5) tornadoes than the historic 1974 tornado outbreak.
In the wake of this system, hundreds of people were left injured and/or homeless, along with approximately 100 people who lost their lives in the northern Alabama area alone. Across the state of Alabama, 248 people lost their lives and at least 2200 people were injured. The extent of the devastation was unparalleled with countless homes, neighborhoods and even portions of cities or towns either partially or completely destroyed. This storm system was responsible for one of the largest and deadliest tornado outbreaks to ever impact much of the southeastern region.
The powerful storm system that affected the NWS Huntsville Forecast Area would actually occur in three separate waves of severe weather that day. The first occurred during the early morning hours of April 27, 2011 roughly between the hours of 2 AM and 8 AM CDT, while the second occurred during the late-morning to early afternoon period. The third and most devastating wave occurred during the afternoon and evening hours on Wednesday, with some of the most violent and destructive tornadoes to affect the central Tennessee Valley area in recent decades.
The hardest hit areas in the Huntsville Forecast Area were impacted by two EF-5 (the strongest and most violent tornado classification on the Enhanced Fujita Scale) tornadoes. The first of these EF-5 tornadoes hit the communities of Phil Campbell and Oak Grove in eastern Franklin County Alabama, Mt. Hope in western Lawrence County, the Tanner Community in eastern Limestone County, and Hazel Green in Madison county the hardest. Along a line connecting these areas and further northeast into Franklin County Tennessee, this devastating tornado tracked with peak winds around 210 mph.
A separate storm produced a second EF-5 tornado which devastated the communities of Shiloh, Rainsville and the extreme southeastern portions of Sylvania as well as Henagar in DeKalb County. This EF-5 tragically was the cause of 33 fatalities in DeKalb County alone, before it continued northeastward into Dade County, Georgia. Furthermore, the towns of Dutton, Pisgah, and Flat Rock in Jackson County also sustained incredible damage as EF-2 and EF-4 tornadoes pushed through in the afternoon and evening hours. The EF-4 tornado that affected Pisgah and Flat Rock areas packed maximum winds near 190 mph.
Other areas impacted by the storms include the city of Cullman (EF-4 tornado), where extensive damage occurred to buildings in the downtown area, and to the town of Fairview, both of which are located in Cullman County. Further northeast along its track, the tornado produced significant damage in the Ruth and Oak Grove communities in Marshall County.
In most of these areas, numerous people lost their lives. These represent just several of the communities and towns impacted by the events of April 27, 2011.