On The Job - Alabama: Killer Tornado Rakes Tuscaloosa Area

Michael Garlock reports on a band of twisters that ripped through the state, killing 12 people and injuring upwards of 75, and singles out a particularly dangerous storm.


TUSCALOOSA FIRE DEPARTMENT Chief Thomas D. Davis Personnel: 204 career firefighters Apparatus: 10 engines, two ladders, one quint, three rescue units, one hazmat, one water rescue, three reserve pumpers, three reserve rescue units Population: 165,000 Area: 68 square miles DUNCANVILLE...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
TUSCALOOSA FIRE DEPARTMENT
Chief Thomas D. Davis
Personnel: 204 career firefighters
Apparatus: 10 engines, two ladders, one quint, three rescue units, one hazmat, one water rescue, three reserve pumpers, three reserve rescue units
Population: 165,000
Area: 68 square miles

DUNCANVILLE VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT
Chief Billy Doss
Personnel: 50 volunteers
Apparatus: Five engines, six tankers, four service vehicles used for first response
Population: 8,000

On Dec. 16, 2000, western Alabama was ripped by a band of twisters that killed 12 people and injured upwards of 75. Hardest hit was the Tuscaloosa area, where 11 of the fatalities occurred. As many as 400 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed.

The twister also touched down in three other locations, leveling houses and killing one person in Geneva, at the southern edge of the state. Etowah, Limestone and St. Clair counties in the north and southeastern Dale, Henry and Houston counties also sustained structure damage.

The worst devastation was in the Englewood, Hillcrest Meadows and Hinton Place sections of Tuscaloosa and the Bear Creek Mobile Home Park in Duncanville, just south of Tuscaloosa, where most of the victims were found. Mobile homes were reduced to dismembered heaps of barely recognizable rubbish.

The tornado, rated at F-4 (wind speed 207-260 mph) on the Fujita Scale, was spawned by a supercell thunderstorm that originated in Mississippi. The 12 fatalities moved Alabama into unenviable third place nationwide in total tornado deaths since 1950. Only Texas and Mississippi rank higher. This particular tornado has the distinction of being the strongest one recorded in December in Alabama since 1950. It was the worst to hit Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama, since 1932, when a twister killed more than 100 people.

The Geneva County twister hit shortly after 10:30 A.M. Geneva borders the Florida Panhandle and one person died, eight people were injured, two of them severely, and 20 homes were damaged. The same tornado also damaged a textile mill and destroyed a peanut mill in neighboring Dale County.

At 12:05 P.M., the National Weather Service in Birmingham reported 0.75-inch hail and penny-size hail near Hamilton in Marion County. At 12:30, an F-1 (74-95 mph) tornado touched down for one minute in southwest Limestone County, three miles south of Coxey in the northern part of the state. There were no reported injuries. The track was a half-mile long by about 40 yards wide. Ten minutes later, the supercell generated a second twister, rated F-2 (96-110 mph), that touched down five miles west-northwest of Athens, just south of O'Neal in the north central part of the state. Ominously, its track was longer, 4.8 miles, and wider, 60 yards. The tornado dissipated at 12:44.

Athens and Coxey are 160 miles north of Tuscaloosa; Geneva lies 230 miles to the south-southeast. While the citizens of Tuscaloosa and Duncanville were enjoying unseasonably warm weather - it was a balmy and welcome 75 degrees - their neighbors to the north and south were getting plastered by a series of tornadoes that inexplicably hit within rapid succession in far-flung reaches of the state.

"This storm was different because the tornado moved at 60 mph," John Oldshue, a meteorologist at WJSU-TV in Tuscaloosa, explained. "Tornadoes typically move at 30 mph. We provided wall-to-wall coverage. We have a tower cam that provides live, real-time images."

Huge Supercell

Although there were several different twisters, all of them were the result of one parent storm that moved in a northeasterly direction. The supercell was so large that is spawned six different tornadoes over a period of six hours and 10 minutes. The residents of Englewood, Hillcrest Meadows and Hinton Place and the Bear Creek Mobile Home Park were essentially being bracketed by potentially lethal tornadoes.

This content continues onto the next page...