Remembering the 2011 Super Outbreak of Tornadoes - Part 1

Published: Apr. 27, 2021 at 7:44 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — It’s now been ten years since one of the most devastating and largest tornado outbreaks in the history of the United States.

Between April 25 and April 28, 2011, a multi-day tornado outbreak impacted 16 states. In late April 2011, a monster tornado took aim at Tuscaloosa. The width spanned at least one mile wide.


Four of the most powerful tornadoes, EF-5 tornadoes with winds more than 200 mph, and those Devastating Alabama and Mississippi. Here’s a list of the most powerful tornadoes:

Smithville, MSEF-5205 mph35 miles3/4 mile1540
Hackleburg, ALEF-5210 mph25 miles1.25 miles72145
Rainsville, ALEF-5200mph+33 miles3/4 mile35
Philadelphia, MSEF-5205 mph29 miles1/2 mile36

The damage path seemed to go on forever. In fact, if you took the path length of each tornado, it adds up to 3,200 miles, according to The Weather Channel Meteorologist Dr. Greg Forbes. That’s 600 miles longer than the 1974 super outbreak.

In fact, there were so many tornadoes that the Huntsville National Weather Service office issued 92 tornado warnings in one day. Some debris from the most powerful tornadoes were found more than 200 miles away.

One of the most memorable tornadoes that day was the Tuscaloosa, Alabama tornado, which many watched unfold live on television. This tornado rated an EF-4 with winds of 190 mph. That’s just 10 mph short of an EF-5. The destruction was just as bad, and the number of deaths and injuries was staggering.

From this one tornado, there were 1,500 injuries and 65 deaths. The path of this monster was 80 miles long. The width at one point was one and a half miles.


Storms moves into Virginia on the evening of April 27.

In Glade Spring, Virginia Gary and Linda Parsons laid face down in their home as the tornado destroyed everything around them.

Linda Parsons describes that night: “We just felt the windows break and the house rumble”

An EF-3 tornado with winds of 140 mph cut a path of destruction through the heart of this small community in southwest Virginia.

The Parsons took shelter, not knowing if they would survive. “Common sense would have told you nobody would have lived through this,” Linda said.

The tornado hit a truck stop, crossed I-81 and destroyed several mobile homes. The Parsons were thankful to be alive, and unhurt.

Gary Parson said, “We came through without a scratch, without a scratch and I just thank the Lord for that.”

Some others were not so lucky. Three people lost their lives in this tornado and fifty were injured.

The path of destruction was 18 miles long. In one day, 19 tornadoes touched down in Virginia.

By the morning of April 28, the tornado count was 360 in this 4-day tornado outbreak. Nearly as many people lost their lives, there was 324 deaths, most of those in Alabama. More than 3,000 people were injured in this event.

The cost of the destruction was at least $10 billion dollars.

The Positives

As a result of this outbreak, FEMA grant money helped homeowners and communities put in tornado shelters. There was also a bigger campaign for NOAA weather radios, and for raising more awareness with being prepared with severe weather.

If you want to read through some individual tornado stories from across the country, check out this link:

A map of the super outbreak tornadoes from US Tornadoes
A map of the super outbreak tornadoes from US Tornadoes(US Tornadoes)

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