1956 McDonald Chapel, Alabama tornado

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The 1956 McDonald Chapel, Alabama tornado was a deadly tornado that took place during the afternoon of April 15, 1956, across the Greater Birmingham area in Jefferson County, Alabama, United States. Retroactively rated an F4 on the Fujita scale, which was not invented until 1971, the tornado killed 25 people and injured 200 others. While only two known tornadoes touched down across the Southeastern United States (the other occurred in northern Georgia) on that day, the Birmingham tornado produced major devastation across areas west and north of downtown Birmingham.

Meteorological synopsis[edit]

At 5:15 a.m. CST on April 15, the U.S. Weather Bureau office in Birmingham, Alabama, issued a bulletin that warned of the possibility that a "tornado or two" would touch down in an area covering western Tennessee, northern Mississippi, and northern Alabama—namely, Lauderdale, Limestone, Lawrence, Colbert, and Morgan Counties, plus parts of Marion, Winston, Cullman, and Madison Counties.[1] An update at noon local time highlighted the prospects for severe thunderstorms over west-central Alabama between 1:00–7:00 p.m. CST. Hail and gusts to 60 miles per hour (97 km/h) were expected to remain the primary hazards.[1]

Tornado table[edit]

Confirmed
Total
Confirmed
F?
Confirmed
F0
Confirmed
F1
Confirmed
F2
Confirmed
F3
Confirmed
F4
Confirmed
F5
5 0 0 3 1 0 1 0

Confirmed tornadoes[edit]

April 14[edit]

List of confirmed tornadoes - April 14, 1956
F#
Location
County
Time (UTC)
Path length
Damage
Michigan
F1 Morenci Lenawee 0000 0.1 miles (0.16 km) A barn was shifted off its foundation.[2]
Kansas
F1 SE of Minneola Clark 0100 0.1 miles (0.16 km) A barn and a cattle shed were destroyed.[2]
Texas
F1 Midlothian Ellis 0200 1 mile (1.6 km) Residences and barns were unroofed, and some small buildings were destroyed. The tornado path was 200 yards (183 m) wide.[2]
Sources: NCDC Storm Events Database, Grazulis 1993

April 15[edit]

List of confirmed tornadoes - April 15, 1956
F#
Location
County
Time (UTC)
Path length
Damage
Alabama
F4 Pleasant Grove to NW of Trussville Jefferson 2100 21.3 miles (34.3 km) 25 deaths – At least 200 people were injured. 48 people were still listed as hospitalized on April 17, two days after the tornado.[1] Total damage reached $1.5 million.[3][nb 1]
Georgia
F2 SW of Dallas to Cumming Paulding, Cobb, Cherokee, Forsyth 2330 46.8 miles (75.3 km) About 25 homes were damaged, and others were unroofed near Dallas and Cumming.[3] 29 broiler houses were damaged or destroyed as well. F1 damage occurred south of Acworth and north of Woodstock.[3] Widespread downburst activity was reported along the path.
Sources: NCDC Storm Events Database, Grazulis 1993

Notable tornadoes[edit]

McDonald Chapel/Sayreton, Alabama[edit]

The tornado started shortly before 3:00 PM CDT in Pleasant Grove, where a tornado "roar" was heard. Damage between Pleasant Grove and McDonald Chapel indicated that trees were felled in a single direction, so the damage was not listed as tornadic at first, but was considered part of the tornado in posthumous analysis.[1] Next, the tornado struck McDonald Chapel with a path 200–300 yards (183–274 m) wide, devastating the community.[3] Almost total destruction occurred in a swath 150–200 yards (137–183 m) wide. As it passed through McDonald Chapel, eyewitnesses described the tornado funnel as appearing filled with fire and smoke.[1] Many homes in McDonald Chapel were leveled, several of which were swept completely away. The most intense damage appeared to be F5 in intensity, but an F4 rating was rewarded because the homes were very poorly constructed.[3] One of the homes reportedly had almost all of its brick foundation swept away,[1] and a few larger homes were also leveled.[3] The tornado continued across parts of Fultondale, Edgewater, Pratt City, Village Creek, and Tarrant before lifting northwest of Trussville, near the Jefferson-St. Clair County line.[1] The tornado passed just one to two miles north of downtown Birmingham as well as the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. About 400 homes across northern Jefferson County were either damaged or destroyed.[3] Most of the 25 deaths occurred at McDonald Chapel.[1]

The tornado event is similar to other deadly tornadoes on April 4, 1977 and April 8, 1998. Those two tornadoes which were rated F5 killed 22 and 32 people, respectively, across most of the same areas that were hit in 1956. With 25 fatalities, the McDonald Chapel F4 was the deadliest tornado of 1956, surpassing the Grand Rapids F5 that killed 18 people on April 3.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ All damage totals are in 1956 United States dollars unless otherwise noted.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "McDonald Chapel F-4 Tornado - Jefferson County April 15, 1956". Birmingham, Alabama: National Weather Service. 2013 13 February. Retrieved 12 June 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c "Storm Data and Unusual Weather Phenomena". Climatological Data National Summary (Asheville, North Carolina: United States Department of Commerce) 7 (4): 120–122. 1956. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Grazulis 1993, p. 996

Bibliography[edit]