…an act of atmospheric tornadic violence matched only once a generation.
Looking back, 4/27/11 did several things to me. It invigorated my interest in weather, and especially tornadoes, like no other. Along with the 4/14-16/2011 outbreak, it lifted me out of my depressive state about my grades, a prelude to much better circumstances fall semester. It also pointed me more towards analyzing tornado damage. I have been almost obsessed with tornadoes and analyzing tornado damage since.
To the Southeast, the toll was immense. 319 dead, many more injured. ~10 billion in damages inflicted. Something like 1.2% of all the land area in Alabama was affected by some type of tornado. In the hardest hit small towns (which excludes Tuscaloosa), 1-2% of the population perished. In the small town of Smithville, MS, 16 fatalities occurred in as few as 18 destroyed residences. Scenes like this are repeated in areas such as Rainsville, AL and Phil Campbell, AL – storm surveyors reported feeling sick viewing the damage. From a source (that I can hopefully dig up soon), at least 10 out of the ~172 fatality instances investigated were in basements, a traditionally safe haven from deadly tornadic winds. Reports of body parts found in separate areas, and extremely high above-ground mortality rates, were prevalent with some of the tornadoes. In many ways, Tuscaloosa was lucky to avoid the high-end violence found further north.
Aerial damage pictures from the longest-track and deadliest tornado. The damage in Phil Campbell, Mt. Hope, and Hackleburg was rated EF5, the highest rating on the EF scale.
I think the weather community was pretty naive prior to 4/27/11. After all, we hadn’t seen more than 100 fatalities from tornadoes in a single day since 1974. How naive we were, to think that couldn’t happen again sans a tornado hitting a major sporting/gathering event. One of the biggest impacts from the 2011 tornadoes was the realization that we, as a country, are still vulnerable to the most violent forces of nature.