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10 years ago today: the “forgotten” 2011 tornado outbreak

12 days before the April 27, 2011 outbreak was another historic tornado outbreak in AL
The tornado, damaging wind and large hail reports from April 15th, 2011.
The tornado, damaging wind and large hail reports from April 15th, 2011.(NOAA/SPC)
Updated: Apr. 15, 2021 at 8:41 AM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - When the year 2011 is brought up, the first thing that comes to mind for most Alabamians is probably the April 27th tornado outbreak. And rightfully so. That was an outbreak that may only happen once or twice per century.

But less than two weeks before that historic outbreak was another major, deadly and widespread tornado outbreak. During a roughly 52-hour period from April 14th to April 16th, 2011, a total of 178 tornadoes touched down across 15 states.

A major tornado outbreak occurred over a 3-day span in mid-April 10 years ago.
A major tornado outbreak occurred over a 3-day span in mid-April 10 years ago.(NOAA/NWS Mobile)

The tornadoes killed 38 people, injured nearly 600 and caused $2.1B in damage (that’s using 2011 USD).

45 of those tornadoes touched down in Alabama alone on April 15th -- the most active of the three days with 73 tornadoes touching down across 7 states. And they weren’t spread out all over the state; each of the 45 tornadoes touched down somewhere in central, west-central or southwest Alabama.

Just under half (22) of the tornadoes were “strong.” That means they were rated at least EF2 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. It’s not often that you see that percentage of tornadoes during a severe weather event wind up being that strong.

Alabama was hit by 45 tornadoes during the April 15th, 2011 outbreak.
Alabama was hit by 45 tornadoes during the April 15th, 2011 outbreak.(WSFA 12 News)

The strongest tornadoes to occur in Alabama were all rated EF3. They include:

  • Boones Chapel (Autauga County): 150 mph max wind -- 3 fatalities, 4 injuries
  • Myrtlewood-Pinhook (Marengo County): 150 mph max wind -- 1 fatality, 4 injuries
  • Black Warrior (Greene and Tuscaloosa counties): 140 mph max wind
  • Geiger (Sumter County): 140-150 mph max wind
  • Northeastern Monroe County: max wind of at least 136 mph
The 45 tornadoes to touch down in AL on April 15th, 2011.
The 45 tornadoes to touch down in AL on April 15th, 2011.(NWS Birmingham/NOAA)

Those were the strongest tornadoes to impact the state, but most certainly were not the only damaging or significant tornadoes to hit. A few of the other more known tornadoes include...

A 130 mph EF2 that hit parts of Elmore, Coosa and Tallapoosa counties, the 100 mph EF1 to hit the Jacksons Gap area, the 130 mph EF2 to hit parts of Dallas and Autauga counties, an EF2 that moved from Monroe County into Butler County, and another longer-track EF2 that touched down in Escambia County and moved to near Andalusia.

You can view all of the tornadoes that touched during the outbreak courtesy of the National Weather Service in Birmingham and the National Weather Service in Mobile.

As you’ll see, many counties in the state were impacted by more than one tornado over just a 12-hour span as severe thunderstorms and supercells repeatedly moved through from the southwest.

Central, west-central and southwest Alabama were hit hard by the tornado outbreak of April...
Central, west-central and southwest Alabama were hit hard by the tornado outbreak of April 15th, 2011.(WSFA 12 News)

The counties hardest hit were Autauga with 6 tornadoes, Marengo with 5 tornadoes, and Dallas and Monroe each with 4 tornadoes. Butler, Elmore, Escambia, Perry, and Tallapoosa counties were each hit by two different tornadoes.

There were also 13 tornadoes that traveled at least 10 miles, with several traveling anywhere from 15 to 25 miles! It was without question an historic outbreak in not only Alabama, but other states as well. It just so happens that arguably the worst tornado outbreak in U.S. history occurred just 12 days later.

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