1932 Deep South tornado outbreak
|Active as of||March 21–22, 1932|
|Tornadoes confirmed||≥ 36|
|Max rating1||F4 tornado|
|Duration of tornado outbreak2||~13 hours|
|Damage||≥ $4.34 million (1932 USD; $72.9 million 2012 USD)|
|Fatalities||> 330 deaths, 2,141 injuries|
1Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita scale2Time from first tornado to last tornado
The 1932 Deep South tornado outbreak was a deadly tornado outbreak that struck the Southern United States on March 21–22, 1932. At least 36 tornadoes—including 27 killers and several long-lived tornado families—struck the Deep South, killing more than 330 people and injuring 2,141. Tornadoes affected areas from Mississippi north to Illinois and east to South Carolina, but Alabama was hardest hit, with 268 fatalities; the outbreak is considered to be the deadliest ever in that U.S. state, and among the worst ever in the United States, trailing only the Tri-State Tornado outbreak in 1925, with 747 fatalities, and the Tupelo-Gainesville outbreak in 1936, with 454 fatalities. The 1932 outbreak produced 10 violent tornadoes, classified F4 or F5 on the Fujita scale of tornado intensity, eight of which occurred in Alabama alone, and is surpassed only by the March 1952 tornado outbreak, with 11 violent tornadoes; the April 25–28, 2011 tornado outbreak, with 15; the 1965 Palm Sunday tornado outbreak, with 17; and the April 3, 1974, Super Outbreak, with 30.
At 8 a.m. EST (7 a.m. CST/1200 UTC), a low pressure area of about 991 mb (29.26 inHg) was over eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas, with warm air moving north from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mississippi Valley. Conditions in Alabama and Mississippi were mostly cloudy with early thunderstorm activity, yet temperatures were already in the low 70s and upper 60s°F in Mississippi and western Tennessee. By afternoon, temperatures rose to the middle to upper 70s°F across most of the area. As a cold front approached Alabama, forecasters predicted afternoon thunderstorms and an end to the warm temperatures but did not anticipate the magnitude of the severe weather that later hit most of the state from north of Montgomery to the Tennessee and Georgia borders.
|F#||Location||County||Time (UTC)||Path length||Damage|
|F2||Near Strong||Monroe||2000||Unknown||The tornado unroofed and tore apart homes.|
|F2||Carrier Mills to W of Harrisburg||Saline||2100||6 miles (9.7 km)||A barn and eight homes were destroyed.|
|F2||Hunt City to near Annapolis||Jasper, Crawford||2300||7 miles (11 km)||One home was unroofed and another partially unroofed as farms were damaged.|
|F2||Green Hill||Lauderdale||Unknown||Unknown||The funnel hit a home and a cotton mill.|
|F3||Demopolis||Marengo, Greene, Hale||2115||7 miles (11 km)||3 fatalities — Fifteen homes were either damaged or destroyed in the southeast section of Demopolis.|
|F2||SW of Linden to Faunsdale||Marengo, Perry||2130||20 miles (32 km)||3 fatalities — In northern Linden, the tornado killed two people and injured 15 before striking Faunsdale, where one person died. This was the first of two tornadoes to strike the Faunsdale area during the tornado outbreak, but only this one actually passed directly through the town.|
|F4||Near Ralph to Northport||Tuscaloosa||2200||20 miles (32 km)||37 fatalities — A destructive F4 tornado—the first of 10 this day—hit the Tuscaloosa–Northport area in Tuscaloosa County. The tornado began near Ralph, thence moved into the Fosters area, proceeded to western Tuscaloosa, and then struck the business section of Northport, destroying or damaging more than 400 homes. It destroyed about 100 homes as well as the Tuscaloosa County Club but narrowly missed downtown Tuscaloosa. F2 damage occurred in the west side of town. About 2,000 people were left homeless from this tornado, and 37 were killed in the area.|
|F4||S of Cullman to W of Arab||Cullman, Morgan, Marshall||2230||25 miles (40 km)||18 fatalities — Homes were leveled in up to four rural communities—Phelan, Bolti, Berlin, and Fairview—but all deaths were in Cullman County, where the tornado destroyed 74 homes. Among the deaths was a teacher whose students were dismissed an hour before the tornado arrived. Many fatalities occurred in a box factory south of the Berlin community.|
|F4||N of Marion to near Jemison||Perry, Bibb, Chilton, Shelby, Coosa||2230||60 miles (97 km)||49 fatalities — See section on this tornado|
|F4||Columbiana||Shelby, Talladega||2310||20 miles (32 km)||14 fatalities — This narrow tornado destroyed 40 homes and damaged 200 in the southern half of the city, leveling about 20 of them.|
|F4||W of Plantersville to SW of Sylacauga||Perry, Chilton, Coosa||2330||50 miles (80 km)||31 fatalities — Paralleling the earlier F4 tornado that killed 49 people, this event killed 12 people west of Plantersville in Perry County (now part of Dallas County) and 19 in and near Stanton, north of Plantersville, and Lomax, north of Clanton. Entire families were killed and homes swept away in Stanton and Lomax. Hundreds of volunteers cleared downed trees after the tornado struck a marble works in Marble Valley, near Unity, southwest of Sylacauga. Chilton County had $500,000 in losses and 38 fatalities from both this and the previous F4 tornado.|
|F2||Greensboro||Hale, Perry||0100||10 miles (16 km)||1 fatality — The tornado unroofed part of the Greensboro high school and several homes, doing $25,000 (1932 USD) in damage. One person died in a tenant home in Perry County.|
|F3||W of Faunsdale to W of Marion||Marengo, Hale, Perry||0100||20 miles (32 km)||10 fatalities — The second tornado to hit near Faunsdale, this one was seen by residents cleaning debris from the first, weaker event. The second event destroyed barns and may have reached F4 intensity as it destroyed a large estate. At least 10, and possibly 20, fatalities occurred in tenant homes near Laneville. The funnel dissipated at Scotts Station, now west of Marion.|
|F4||Gantts Quarry to Chandler Springs||Talladega||0110||25 miles (40 km)||41 fatalities — The second-deadliest tornado of the day, it damaged or destroyed 35 homes at Gantts Quarry, causing one fatality before killing 29 people in northern Sylacauga. In Sylacauga, 600 homes were damaged or destroyed and 1,300 people were left homeless. Other damage and 11 fatalities occurred northeast of the city, near Bethel Church (now Bethlehem Church Road) and Chandler Springs in what is now the Talladega National Forest. Seven fatalities were at Bethel Church alone.|
|F2||Outside Moulton||Lawrence, Morgan||0130||5 miles (8.0 km)||4 fatalities — The tornado destroyed small homes at Piney Grove between Moulton and Hartsville (now Hartselle).|
|F3||NE of Addison to SE of Falkville||Winston, Cullman, Morgan||0130||10 miles (16 km)||8 fatalities — The tornado passed near Corinth and Battle Ground. It destroyed 30 homes and may have carried a body up to 0.5 mi (0.8 km) from its home.|
|F4||ENE of Sylacauga to Newell||Talladega, Clay, Randolph||0200||45 miles (72 km)||13 fatalities — This tornado hit many rural communities in Clay County and in all destroyed 75 homes and many buildings on more than 110 farms. The tornado passed 4 mi (6.4 km) north of Ashland and 1 mi (1.6 km) north of Lineville. All fatalities were in the small communities along the path, including Bool’s Gap (now called Bulls Gap), Quenalda (now Quenelda, a ghost town near Poe Bridge Cemetery), Hassell Gap, and Bellview, north of Ashland. 385 people were left homeless. There were 160 injuries despite the rural nature of the areas affected.|
|F4||SW of Lacey's Spring to E of Jasper, TN||Morgan, Madison, Jackson, Marion (TN)||0200||75 miles (121 km)||38 fatalities — See section on this tornado|
|F3||Near Spurgeon||Pike||2130||Unknown||A strong tornado, near-F4 in intensity, swept away a home and its contents while removing the roofs from four farmhouses, leaving them exposed to rain.|
|F3||Mitchell to E of Bedford||Lawrence||2215||11 miles (18 km)||A tornado destroyed seven homes and a dozen barns, including three homes at near-F4 strength.|
|F2||Evansville||Vanderburgh||0015||1 mile (1.6 km)||A tornado destroyed a garage, moved four homes, unroofed one home, and unroofed a furniture store in northeast Evansville. The funnel dipped to the ground three times and allowed water to damage furniture in the store.|
|F2||SE Lewis County||Lewis||2300||Unknown||A tenant home was destroyed, injuring eight people. The thunderstorm that produced this tornado spawned others later in Williamson, Davidson, and Wilson counties.|
|F4||SW of Pulaski||Giles||2330||13 miles (21 km)||6 fatalities — This tornado began 10 mi (16 km) southwest of Pulaski and dissipated 5 mi (8.0 km) north of the town. It completely destroyed ten homes in steep valleys and on hills west of Pulaski. Five fatalities were in one home.|
|F2||SW of Leipers Fork to W of Brentwood||Williamson, Davidson, Wilson||0000||50 miles (80 km)||3 fatalities — This event was likely a tornado family and destroyed farm buildings. A boy was killed in a barn next to a farm where an F3 tornado on April 29, 1909, killed a woman.|
|F3||S of Lewisburg to NE of Belfast||Marshall||0000||10 miles (16 km)||1 fatality — The tornado destroyed 13 homes near Belfast, carrying a rug 2 mi (3.2 km) from one home.|
|F2||Near Woodbury||Cannon||0100||Unknown||2 fatalities — The funnel struck 6 mi (9.7 km) east and northeast of Woodbury, destroying ten homes and killing a woman and her son.|
|F2||W of Huntsville||Scott||0150||Unknown||A tornado destroyed small homes and flung clothes in trees 1 mi (1.6 km) away.|
|F3||S of Charleston to Calhoun||Bradley, McMinn||0150||10 miles (16 km)||1 fatality — 20 homes were destroyed at Charleston. Debris was carried from 4–20 mi (6.4–32.2 km) from the homes.|
|F4||NE of Dalton to near Conasauga, TN||Whitfield, Murray, Polk (TN)||0015||20 miles (32 km)||15 fatalities — A large and intense tornado, up to 1 mile (1,610 m) wide, leveled homes on each side of the Conasauga River in Georgia and Tennessee. Seven fatalities were in three different homes near Conasauga. The tornado began not far from Ringgold; an EF4 tornado also hit the same areas on April 27, 2011.|
|F3||N of Seney to N of Rydal||Polk, Floyd, Bartow||0030||30 miles (48 km)||12 fatalities — 20 homes were ripped apart near Seney, and 40 more were damaged or destroyed 6 mi (9.7 km) south-southwest of Kingston, Georgia. Seven of the 12 fatalities occurred in the Macedonia community near Kingston. The most intense damage, F3 in strength, was in this area. Parts of a church were carried 2 mi (3.2 km).|
|F3||Taylorsville to Sallacoa||Bartow, Cherokee||0030||25 miles (40 km)||4 fatalities — The funnel moved parallel to the previous event but occurred 6 mi (9.7 km) farther southeast. There were three fatalities near Euharlee and 7 mi (11 km) from Cartersville. 20 homes were damaged or destroyed in Sallacoa, with one more fatality.|
|F2||Uniontown||Union||0015||.5 miles (0.80 km)||2 fatalities — The tornado tore the roofs off a hotel, four businesses, and 15 small homes. Two elderly people died in the hotel.|
|F#||Location||County||Time (UTC)||Path length||Damage|
|F2||SW of Spartanburg||Spartanburg||0600||9 miles (14 km)||2 deaths – Two people died as 20 tenant homes were reportedly destroyed. The tornado reformed as the following event, below.|
|F2||E of Cowpens to NW of Gaffney||Cherokee||0630||8 miles (13 km)||1 death – One person died in a tenant home.|
|F3||S of Athens to NE of Comer||Clarke, Madison||0645||18 miles (29 km)||12 fatalities − The tornado damaged 25 homesites in Athens and passed very close to the University of Georgia. It continued on to damage or destroy 75 additional homes from Colbert to the communities of Paola and Comer.|
|F2||NE Jones County to NW Baldwin County||Jones, Baldwin||0800||7 miles (11 km)||1 fatality − The tornado struck a historic structure, killing one man and injuring five other persons. The tornado destroyed the home as well as six additional, smaller structures.|
Cox/Union Grove, Alabama
Forming 30 minutes after the Tuscaloosa tornado, the deadliest tornado of the outbreak carved a path 60 mi (97 km) long southeast of Birmingham across Perry, Bibb, Chilton, Shelby, and Coosa counties in Central Alabama. Also the longest-tracked single tornado to touch down this day, it was followed an hour later by another F4 tornado, on a path 8 mi (13 km) to the southeast. Each killed an estimated 19 people in Chilton County alone. The first, earlier event killed 21 people, including entire families, near the town of Jemison and in the Union Grove community, both in Chilton County. The Cox community east of Lawley in Bibb County was purportedly leveled. In Perry County alone, 21 people died and 150 families were left homeless. In one family, seven people died. The tornado devastated communities in and near Jemison, and 49 people were killed by this single tornado—the largest death toll by a single tornado in Alabama until both the Hackleburg EF5 and the Tuscaloosa—Birmingham EF4 tornadoes produced 72 and 64 fatalities, respectively, on April 27, 2011.
Rural Jackson County, Alabama/Jasper, Tennessee
An event likely consisting of two or three tornadoes, it killed two people upon touching down and went on to hit many rural communities, particularly in Jackson County, Alabama, where it destroyed 125 homes. Two fatalities were at Lacey’s Spring, south of Huntsville, and four at Paint Rock. 32 of the 38 fatalities were in Jackson County, with two or more near eight small communities each. In Tennessee, a couple died as 15 homes were struck east of Jasper. The tornado produced 500 injuries, the most done by any tornado this date. However, this total may have not been produced by a single tornado, for of the 38 total fatalities, many were 10 mi (16 km) north of south of a straight path, suggesting the event was in fact a tornado family. One check from a community in Northeast Alabama, where four people died, was carried 105 mi (169 km) to Athens, Tennessee. Additionally, a live chicken was found in a dresser drawer one week after the tornado hit Jackson County. The tornado family moved from south of Huntsville to northwest of Bridgeport and thence into Tennessee.
As the outbreak progressed, eight other F4 tornadoes struck Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia. In Alabama, within four hours of the first F4 tornado, 18 people were killed near the Cullman area in Cullman County; 14 in the Columbiana area in Shelby County; 41 in Coosa and Talladega counties near Sylacauga; and 38 people in small communities, mostly in (Jackson County), in Northeastern Alabama. One of the tornadoes followed the deadly Jemison event by one hour and passed just 8 mi (13 km) to the southeast, killing 31 people in and around the Clanton area in Chilton County.
Outside Alabama, six people were killed near Pulaski, Tennessee, in Giles County (just north of the Alabama state line). 13 people in the state died from this and six other strong tornadoes. In Georgia, a large tornado near the Tennessee-Georgia state line left a mile-wide damage path, and killed 15 people from Beaverdale (Whitfield County) to Conasauga (Polk County). Two other tornadoes in Georgia killed a combined 16 people and were on the ground almost simultaneously. On March 22, tornadoes continued after midnight EST (11:00 p.m. CST/0400 UTC) as four more strong tornadoes struck Georgia and South Carolina until 3:00 a.m. EST (2:00 a.m. CST/0700 UTC). One of them passed near the University of Georgia in Athens and killed 12 people.
At least 25 cities and communities in Alabama reported one fatality or more during the day, including Demopolis, Union Grove, Linden, Plantersville, Sycamore, Northport, Huntsville, Marion, Stanton, Scottsboro, Paint Rock, Columbiana, Faunsdale, Bethel Church, Jemison, Falkville, Sylacauga, Bridgeport, Lineville, Gantts Quarry, Cullman, and Corinth. Eleven counties were particularly hard hit, with 7,000 homes and businesses destroyed statewide. Seven tornadoes each caused at least 100 injuries in Alabama and Tennessee, with a total of 1,750 injuries in Alabama alone. Seventy-eight percent, or 262, of all 334 fatalities in the outbreak were caused by F4 tornadoes; of these fatalities, 91% were in Alabama alone. In all, the 36 recorded tornadoes caused at least $4.34 million (1932 USD) in damages for the entire outbreak.
The March 21 outbreak is also nicknamed the “Super Outbreak” by the National Weather Service office in Birmingham. While Alabama was the hardest-hit state with 86 fatalities, 75 of which were tornado-related, during the 1974 event, there were nearly three times as many fatalities in the state on March 21, 1932. Also, many tornadoes in rural areas this day likely caused more injuries and probably higher fatalities than reported, as newspapers paid little attention to the deaths of Black sharecroppers, whose families and identities were often unknown. Such a racial aspect was common during natural disasters in the South before desegregation in the late 20th century. The 1932 outbreak was also known for its violence: it set a 24-hour record for violent touchdowns in a single state until the Super Outbreak produced 11 F4 or F5 tornadoes in Kentucky.
Just six days later, on March 27, several other tornadoes struck Alabama again, with an F3 tornado traveling 30 mi (48 km), passing south of Jemison, and killing five people near Thorsby and Collins Chapel. Sightseers who visited the area to view damage from March 21 were forced to take shelter as the funnel cloud neared. This tornado was photographed and incorrectly labeled as the F4 tornado that hit the area, also near Jemison in Shelby County, on March 21.
- Grazulis 1993, p. 36
- Grazulis 1993, pp. 842–4
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- Grazulis 2001, p. 232
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- Grazulis, Thomas (1993), Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991: A Chronology and Analysis of Events, St. Johnsbury, Vermont: Environmental Films, ISBN 1-879362-03-1
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