April 1920 tornado outbreak

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The April 1920 tornado outbreak was a major severe weather event that affected the Southeastern United States on April 20, 1920. At least seven tornadoes affected the American U.S. states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, six of them rated violent F4 on the Fujita scale. At least one of them likely attained F5 intensity, though this is uncertain. The tornado outbreak killed at least 224 people, 97 of them in Alabama and 126 in Mississippi; of these deaths, 223 were related to the six F4 tornadoes. Each of these F4s caused more than 20 deaths. This distribution of tornadoes causing at least 20 deaths is the largest in a single outbreak, tied with that of the April 11, 1965, Palm Sunday outbreak. The 1920 outbreak is also the third-deadliest outbreak in Alabama, April 27, 2011 (238 deaths in-state), and March 21, 1932 (268 deaths in-state), outbreaks. The Super Outbreak of April 3, 1974, was the fourth deadliest with 86 deaths across the state.

Five of the tornadoes were long tracked, each traveling more than 32 miles (51 km) across Mississippi and into Alabama. A tornado that began in Oktibbeha County, Mississippi, crossed into Alabama and lifted over Limestone County, having covered a distance of more than 130 miles (210 km). Along its path, the tornado destroyed entire communities and killed at least 49 people in Alabama, a total that would be matched by a tornado on March 21, 1932. This tied for the deadliest Alabama tornado until an EF5 tornado which killed 72 people in 2011. Additionally, the 1920 outbreak set a single-day record with four violent tornadoes in Mississippi, the highest such total in the state. With three F4s in Alabama, it is the fourth-most intense Alabama outbreak, following the April 3, 1974, Super Outbreak, with four F4–F5, the March 21, 1932, outbreak, with eight F4–F5, and the April 27, 2011, tornado outbreak, with nine EF4–EF5 tornadoes.

In addition to the tornadoes on April 20, other tornadoes associated with the same weather system occurred on April 19 and April 21.[1]

Tornado table[edit]

≥ 16 2 0 ? 6 2 6 0

April 19[edit]

F# Location County Time (UTC) Path length Damage
F3 Huckleberry Mountain to NNE of Piney Bay Logan, Johnson, Pope 0615 15 miles (24 km) 9 deaths – A tornado passed near New Blaine, destroying a bridge on "North Piney Creek" (part of the Big Piney Creek). Five people died in one family near Lake Piney, and their bodies and cooking utensils, along with their stove, were carried for hundreds of yards.[2]
F3 NE of Stafford to W of Mount Nebo Yell, Logan 0615 10 miles (16 km) 10 deaths – Seven members in one family died in a small section of Logan County, near the "Harkey Valley" community. The tornado was reportedly heard for miles.[2]
F2 S of Harrison Boone 0700 5 miles (8.0 km) A tornado snapped large trees and unroofed homes.[2]
F2 St. Joe Searcy 0800 5 miles (8.0 km) A tornado injured 15 people as it destroyed the business district and a railroad depot. Two deaths may have occurred but were unconfirmed.[2]
F? E of Danville Yell unknown unknown A tornado struck 6 miles (9.7 km) east of town.[2]
F2 SW of Union Franklin, St. Charles 2345 12 miles (19 km) A tornado first destroyed many barns and a bridge, then unroofed a shoe factory. Rain drenched 75,000 pairs of exposed shoes in the factory. The tornado became a spectacular-looking waterspout as it crossed the Missouri River.[2]
Sources: Grazulis (1993)

April 20 event[edit]

F# Location County Time (UTC) Path length Damage
F4 N of Ecru to NE of Glen Union, Tippah, Prentiss, Alcorn, Tishomingo 1300 60 miles (97 km) 24 deaths – Beginning in Ingomar, a tornado first killed six people, then continued into six small communities. Homes were leveled or severely damaged in Baker, Keownville, "Five", and Glen (five deaths). Most deaths were in rural, underdeveloped areas, but 180 injuries were distributed throughout the path.[2]
F4 NE of Sturgis to SE of Town Creek, AL Oktibbeha, Clay, Monroe, Itawamba, Marion (AL), Franklin (AL), Colbert (AL), Lawrence (AL) 1400 130 miles (210 km) 88 deathsSee section on this tornado — May have been an F5 tornado.[3] Caused 700+ injuries in very rural areas.[2] Moved parallel to the paths of the Tanner (April 3, 1974) and Hackleburg (April 27, 2011) tornadoes.
F4 NE of Sebastopol to E of Louisville Noxubee, Winston 1430 40 miles (64 km) 27 deaths – 19 of the deaths were in the New Deemer lumber camp south of Philadelphia. There were no shelters in which to seek refuge, which probably heightened the death toll. Extreme damage occurred along much of the path as many rural homes were leveled.[2]
F4 Bay Springs to NW of Russell Jasper, Clarke, Lauderdale 1555 45 miles (72 km) 36 deaths – The last of the four violent tornadoes to form in Mississippi, this was the most damaging in the state.[4] The tornado first touched down in Bay Springs, where it rapidly strengthened, "obliterating" small homes, killing seven people,[2] and throwing an automobile "several hundred yards". Reportedly, all the tires were torn from the rims, and of the three tires that were later found, all had lost their spokes.[4] Documents from Bay Springs were later found 50 miles (80 km) away. As it crossed Jasper County, the tornado killed 14 more people, primarily in the Rose Hill area.[2] In the county alone, 110 injuries were reported and 103 "occupied" buildings were leveled or severely damaged.[4] Near Savoy and north of Enterprise, the tornado produced extreme damage to homes and vegetation, "snapping off large trees like kindling wood" and leveling numerous small homes, most of which "were so completely obliterated as to leave little evidence of their previous existence".[4] Elsewhere along the path, other homes also reportedly vanished without a trace.[4] Afterward, the tornado continued into the Bonita district south of Meridian, killing 11 people in suburban Meridian.[2] Major damage occurred in Bonita, including the destruction of a school, a church, and 25 homes.[4] The tornado later ended between Marion and Russell.
F4 SW of Carbon Hill to SE of Falkville Fayette, Walker, Winston, Cullman, Morgan 1600 50 miles (80 km) 21 deathsSee section on this tornado — Areas were reportedly "swept clean" by the tornado.[5]
F4 W of Lacey's Spring to NE of Brownsboro Morgan, Madison before 1830 > 20 miles (32 km) 27 deaths – This tornado, the final F4 of the outbreak, developed from the Arley–Helicon supercell as it approached the Tennessee River. It was first noted about 10 miles (16 km) southwest of Lily Flagg village shortly before crossing the Tennessee River into Madison County.[5] Where the tornado first touched down is disputed, but the funnel was first observed just across the Morgan–Madison County line from Lily Flagg village, south of Huntsville. The tornado was described as a rapidly rotating, "great, black, whirling cloud" as it crossed the river into Madison County near Green Cove.[5] The tornado quickly intensified as it leveled large swaths of forest, swept away farms and tenant homes, and destroyed well-built "country homes".[6] Reportedly, the tornado snapped or removed all fenceposts in its path and also carried trees long distances, first uprooting them and throwing them onto hillsides.[5] Much damage occurred as the tornado passed east of Brownsboro and west of Gurley, where a path 60 yards (180 ft) wide was reportedly "swept clean" of debris.
F? NW of Eva Morgan unknown unknown Minor damage from a brief tornado which formed after the Helicon tornado dissipated. Touched down 6 miles (9.7 km) from where the last dissipated.[5]
F2 SW of Burwood to N of Thompson's Station Williamson, Maury 1630 15 miles (24 km) 1 death – A tornado damaged or destroyed approximately 60 structures, among them six homes.[2]
Sources: Grazulis (1993)

April 21[edit]

F# Location County Time (UTC) Path length Damage
South Carolina
F2 Near Cedar Rock Chester 0800 unknown A tornado destroyed a small home near Cedar Rock, south-southwest of Chester.[6]
F2 Sandy Springs Anderson 0800 2 miles (3.2 km) A tornado damaged most of the structures in Sandy Springs and destroyed barns and tenant homes.[6]
Sources: Grazulis (1993)

Notable tornadoes[edit]

Aberdeen, Mississippi/Waco, Alabama[edit]

A devastating and long-lived tornado developed near Bradley, northeast of Sturgis in Oktibbeha County.[2] The funnel quickly intensified and began producing "devastating"[4] damage as it passed northwest of Starkville, killing seven people.[2] Moving northeast, the tornado killed 10 more people near Cedar Bluff (Cedarbluff) in Clay County, leveling numerous homes. Its path was then 200–300 yards (600–900 ft) wide.[4] Thereafter, the tornado continued intensifying as it entered Monroe County and then proceeded to devastate the western side of Aberdeen. 22 people died there, though this was the only substantial town in the path.[2] Widening to at least 14 mile (440 yd) wide, the tornado killed five more people in the county before crossing Itawamba County and then moving into Marion County, Alabama.[4] In all, the tornado caused F4 or greater[3] damage and completely leveled more than 200 homes, mostly small, in Mississippi.[2]

Upon entering Alabama, it leveled entire farms south of Bexar, causing nine deaths.[2] One farm alone reported 500 hogs killed. In Marion County alone, the 12-mile (0.80 km) tornado killed 20 people and injured about 200, leveling 87 homes and damaging 100, especially in the Hackleburg area.[2][5] In one area, a Ford automobile was hurled 14 mile (0.40 km), and a swath up to 1.5 miles (2.4 km) wide was reportedly "swept clean",[5] with many homes completely swept away.[3] In Franklin County, the tornado continued to sweep away many homes near Phil Campbell and Spruce Pine, but most of the deaths were near the "Waco" quarry, east of Russellville, where small homes were said to have been "wiped out" and swept away.[5] 19 people died in and near the "Waco" settlement, nine of them in a single family.[2] Nearby, large oak trees were torn up from the soil, huge stones thrown "like a feather," and half of a large boulder carried to Littleville, about 11 miles (18 km) miles away.[5]

Continuing into southeast Colbert County, the tornado devastated the "Mehama" community south of Leighton. There, four people died,[2] many homes were destroyed, and numerous cattle were killed; among the "freak" phenomena was the destruction of a Ford vehicle that was thrown and lost all its wheel casings.[5] One other home was destroyed nearby at Wolf Springs. Afterward, the tornado finally weakened to less-than-violent intensity, after having maintained its strength for more than 100 miles (160 km).[2] Southeast of Town Creek, the tornado killed one more person before lifting near the Tennessee River, though the exact end of its path is unknown and may have been in Limestone County.[5] Very intense darkness was reported from various points in the path of the parent supercell; one observer near "Waco" noted that there was no daylight and conditions were "dark as midnight."[5]

Arley/Helicon, Alabama[edit]

This intense tornado may have developed from the supercell that produced the F4 tornado near New Deemer in Neshoba County, Mississippi.[5] Very rainy and dark conditions attended the thunderstorm at Tuscaloosa and Greensboro, with each place, respectively, registering 3.08 inches (78 mm) and 2.18 inches (55 mm) of rain. Residents reported that noontime conditions were so dark as to prevent people from reading outside.[5] Starting southwest of Carbon Hill, the tornado widened to 400 yards (1,200 ft) and downed trees[5] as it moved northeast through eight communities, leveling numerous homes.[2][5] It first passed near Pocahontas, near Saragossa, and then north of Manchester. North of Manchester, the tornado destroyed homes and barns in the Bennett and Lamon Chapel communities.[5] Farther northeast, the tornado intensified before hitting the town of Arley, located in Winston County, killing one person and sweeping away many homes[2] and farms. Next, the tornado devastated the community of Helicon; reports from the area reported that only one home remained standing and that entire swaths had been "swept clean" in Helicon and in nearby Nesmith.[5] In the Arley–Helicon area, at least 19 people died.[2] The tornado continued northeast to the Vinemont area, northwest of Cullman, destroying two homes and killing a woman near Lacon. Other homes and barns were unroofed or leveled, at least some of them swept completely away, before the tornado lifted northeast of Wilhite.[5] One other tornado later touched down 6 miles (9.7 km) to the northeast of the endpoint.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schneider, Russell S.; Harold E. Brooks; Joseph T. Schaefer. "Tornado Outbreak Day Sequences: Historic Events and Climatology (1875-2003)" (PDF). Norman, Oklahoma: Storm Prediction Center. p. 11. Retrieved 7 June 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Grazulis, Significant, pp. 769-770
  3. ^ a b c Grazulis, Thomas P. (2001). F5-F6 Tornadoes. St. Johnsbury, VT: The Tornado Project. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Jaqua, J. H. (April 1920). "Tornadoes in eastern Mississippi, April 20, 1920". Monthly Weather Review (Meridian, Mississippi: United States Weather Bureau) 48: 203–205. doi:10.1175/1520-0493(1920)48<203b:TIEMA>2.0.CO;2. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Smyth, P. H. (April 1920). "Tornadoes of April 20, 1920, in Alabama". Monthly Weather Review (Montgomery, Alabama: U.S. Weather Bureau) 48: 205–210. doi:10.1175/1520-0493(1920)48<205:TTOAIA>2.0.CO;2. 
  6. ^ a b c Grazulis, Significant p. 770


  • Grazulis, Thomas P. (1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991: A Chronology and Analysis of Events. Environmental Films. ISBN 1-879362-03-1. 
  • — (2003). The Tornado: Nature’s Ultimate Windstorm. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-3538-0. 


External links[edit]