Struck Twice: America's F5 Tornado Towns

Nick Wiltgen
Published: May 29, 2013

Struck by Both Superoutbreaks: Alabama's Tornado Trio

Damage in Limestone County, Ala., from an EF5 tornado that barreled through much of northern Alabama on April 27, 2011, killing 72 people. Source: NWS Huntsville

Three northern Alabama towns share the sad distinction of being the only population centers to be struck by an F5 tornado in the 1974 Superoutbreak and an EF5 tornado in the 2011 Superoutbreak.

In Limestone County, the hamlet of Tanner took a heavy toll from the April 3, 1974 outbreak; in fact, according to the National Weather Service, two F5 tornadoes struck Tanner. (Dr. Theodore "Ted" Fujita, inventor of the Fujita Scale, personally surveyed this outbreak and only gave an F5 to the first Tanner tornado and an F4 to the second.) In all, some 55 deaths and over 400 injuries were attributed to these two tornadoes alone.

The second of those 1974 F5 tornadoes also hit the communities of Capshaw and Harvest, just northwest of Huntsville along the Limestone-Madison county line.

All three of these communities would have another rendezvous with disaster in the second Superoutbreak on April 27, 2011.

The EF5 tornado that tore through Hackleburg and Phil Campbell continued on an east-northeastward track into Limestone and Madison Counties, following a track almost identical to that of the F5 tornadoes in 1974.

While the tornado was no longer quite at EF5 strength by this point, it still did "high end EF4 to near EF5 damage" in Tanner, EF3 damage in Capshaw and EF4 damage in Harvest. It also struck the Anderson Hills subdivision northwest of downtown Huntsville, which had been hit by an F4 on May 18, 1995.

Next, we visit another Alabama city that's proven to be a magnet for violent tornadoes.

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