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Struck Twice: America's F5 Tornado Towns

Nick Wiltgen
Published: May 29, 2013

Big City, Big Tornadoes

Birmingham Tornado

Homes were swept from their foundations in the Smithfield Drive area of Birmingham, Ala., when an F5 tornado tore through on April 4, 1977. Source: NWS Birmingham

Alabama's largest city is no stranger to tornadic winds.

Birmingham, situated in the furrowed valleys at the southern tip of the Appalachians, was famously struck by the same EF4 tornado that hit Tuscaloosa in the April 27, 2011 Superoutbreak.

But the city has also been hit by two F5 tornadoes. The first came April 4, 1977, when a tornado touched down just a few miles northwest of downtown and quickly intensified. It came to be dubbed the "Smithfield Tornado" after the subdivision that suffered the worst damage. (Ironically, this same subdivision also took a heavy blow from the EF4 in the 2011 outbreak.)

The 1977 tornado took 22 lives, injured 130, and caused so much damage to Daniel Payne College that it closed its doors after 97 years of service.

On the evening of April 8, 1998, a massive F5 tornado ripped through the western suburbs of Birmingham. This twister, sometimes called the "Oak Grove" tornado for the high school it destroyed, entered the city limits of Birmingham and affected a zone within a few blocks of the 1977 tornado's starting point. This tornado was making a beeline for the northern part of downtown Birmingham and the city's international airport, but lifted before reaching those areas.

So not only has Birmingham seen two F5 tornadoes and a recent EF4, but all of those tornadoes affected virtually the same northwestern sections of the city limits!

Next, a town whose two EF5 tornadoes occurred almost simultaneously.


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