1936 Tupelo–Gainesville tornado outbreak

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1936 Tupelo–Gainesville tornado outbreak
TypeTornado outbreak
DurationApril 5–6, 1936
Tornadoes
confirmed
≥ 14
Max. rating1F5 tornado
Duration of
tornado outbreak2
18 hours
Fatalities≥ 454 fatalities, >2,498 injuries
Damage≥ $15.9 million (1936 USD)
≥ $335 million (2023 USD)
Areas affectedSouthern United States
1Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita scale
2Time from first tornado to last tornado

On April 5–6, 1936, an outbreak of 14 (or more) tornadoes struck the Southeastern United States, killing at least 454 people (with 419 of those deaths caused by just two tornadoes) and injuring at least 2,500 others. Over 200 people died in Georgia alone, making it the deadliest disaster ever recorded in the state.[1]

Although the outbreak is often centered on the violent tornadoes in Tupelo, Mississippi (with an estimated F5 rating), and Gainesville, Georgia (estimated F4 rating), there were other destructive tornadoes in the cities of Columbia, Tennessee; Acworth, Georgia; and Anderson, South Carolina. One long-track F4 tornado killed six people in rural parts of Tennessee, and two other long-track tornadoes (rated F3) killed an additional 13 people in southern Tennessee and northern Alabama. Another pair of F3 tornadoes touched down in Mississippi, claiming an additional eight lives.

This is the second deadliest tornado outbreak in U.S. history (after that of the Tri-state tornado in 1925) and the only one in which two separate tornadoes killed more than 200 people each.[2][nb 1][nb 2][nb 3]

Confirmed tornadoes[edit]

Confirmed tornadoes by Fujita rating
FU F0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 Total
1 ? ? 2 7 3 1 ≥ 14

April 5 event[edit]

Confirmed tornadoes – Sunday, April 5, 1936[nb 4][nb 5]
F# Location County / Parish State Time (UTC) Path length Max. width Summary
F3 LaCrosseLarkin Izard AR 21:00–? 6 mi (9.7 km) 400 yd (370 m) 1 death — An intense tornado destroyed a dozen homes approximately 7 mi (11 km) north-northeast of Melbourne. Four or five people were injured, depending on the source, and estimated losses were $40,000[13][14][15]
F4 N of Waynesboro to S of Hohenwald Hardin, Wayne, Lewis TN 01:45–? 35 mi (56 km) 300 yd (270 m) 6 deaths — A violent tornado leveled homes and destroyed other buildings in several communities. The mining village Smith's Branch was obliterated, with four deaths and 27 injuries. Eight other injuries were also reported, for a total of 35, and damages totaled between $150,000 and $200,000. [13][14][15]
F3 Northwestern Booneville Prentiss MS 02:05–? 15 mi (24 km) 400 yd (370 m) 4 deaths — This tornado wrecked spacious homes, killing three people in one of them. The tornado also destroyed a number of smaller homes. 12 people were injured and losses totaled $20,000.[13]
F3 Bryant Yalobusha MS 02:10–? 18 mi (29 km) 400 yd (370 m) 4 deaths — This, the first member of the Tupelo tornado family, touched down south of Coffeeville. It splintered hundreds of pine trees and wrecked five homes. All known fatalities were in one of the homes. Seven people were injured and losses totaled $10,000.[13][14][15]
F3 NW of Columbia Maury TN 02:30–? 5 mi (8.0 km) 300 yd (270 m) 5 deaths — An intense tornado leveled hovels and large homes alike in a mining village. A total of approximately 30 homes were destroyed or damaged, with losses estimated at $50,000. 30 injuries occurred.[13][14]
F5 Northern Tupelo Lee, Itawamba MS 02:55–? 15 mi (24 km) 1,000 yd (910 m) 216+ deaths — See section on this tornado — At least 700 injuries were reported, with damages of up to $3 million.[13]
F3 Red Bay, AL to W of Frankfort, AL Itawamba (MS), Franklin (AL), Colbert (AL) MS, AL 03:02–? 25 mi (40 km) Un­known 8 deaths — This tornado formed from the same storm as the Tupelo F5 and may have been an extension of the latter tornado. It destroyed or damaged 30 homes in Red Bay, killing four people. Three additional deaths took place in a filling station and a fourth in another home. 55 injuries occurred and losses totaled $145,000.[16]
F3 E of Rogersville, AL to Shady Grove, TN Lauderdale (AL), Limestone (AL), Madison (AL), Lincoln (TN) AL, TN 04:15–? 50 mi (80 km) 200 yd (180 m) 5 deaths — This intense tornado family formed from the same storm as the Tupelo F5. It produced most of its damage to farms near Elkmont, Alabama, where four people died in a pair of homes that were obliterated. Papers marked from Tupelo, Mississippi, landed in fields near Flintville, Tennessee. 13 people were injured and losses totaled $40,000.[17]

April 6 event[edit]

Confirmed tornadoes – Monday, April 6, 1936[nb 4][nb 5]
F# Location County / Parish State Time (UTC) Path length Max. width Summary
F3 NE of Acworth Cobb, Cherokee GA 12:22–? 8 mi (13 km) 100 yd (91 m) An intense tornado destroyed several homes, a store, and a gristmill with damage to other structures also reported. Five people sustained injuries.[17][18][15]
FU Northern Gainesville to New Holland Hall GA 13:27–? Un­known Un­known This was the first of three destructive tornadoes to strike Gainesville. It hit Brenau College, which is now a university, and continued eastward into New Holland. Trees and buildings on the campus sustained minor damage.[18][15]
F4 Downtown Gainesville (two tornadoes) Hall GA 13:37–? 7 mi (11 km) 400 yd (370 m) 203+ deaths — See section on this tornado — 1,600 people were injured. These were the most destructive tornadoes of the outbreak, with $12.5 million in losses.[17][18][15]
F2 Northwestern Anderson Anderson SC 14:55–? 15 mi (24 km) 400 yd (370 m) 1 death — This strong tornado, formed by the same storm as the Gainesville tornado, felled a number of trees and destroyed 50 homes as well as multiple farmhouses and a couple of mills. An elderly farmer was killed by falling bricks, and 30 other people were injured. Letters marked as being from Gainesville were found nearby. Total losses were estimated at $250,000-300,000. [17][19][15]
F2 W of Carnesville to Lavonia Franklin GA 15:00–? 15 mi (24 km) 200 yd (180 m) 1 death — This strong tornado destroyed nine homes and damaged 15 others. Six injuries were reported along with $25,000 in losses.[17][19]

Tupelo, Mississippi[edit]

Tupelo, Mississippi
F5 tornado
Max. rating1F5 tornado
Fatalities≥ 216 fatalities, ≥ 700 injuries
Damage$3 million (1936 USD)
$73.8 million (2023 USD)
1Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita scale

Around 8:30 p.m., April 5, 1936, the Tupelo tornado, the fourth-deadliest tornado in United States history, emerged from a complex of storm cells and touched down in a rural area approximately eight miles outside of the city.[citation needed] Making its way toward Tupelo, the massive tornado killed a family of 13 as their house was swept away, and injured many more before reaching Tupelo's west side. Retroactively rated F5 on the modern Fujita scale, it caused total destruction along its path through the Willis Heights neighborhood. Dozens of large and well built mansions were swept completely away in this area. Although missing the business district, the tornado moved through the residential areas of north Tupelo, destroying many homes, and killing whole families. The Gum Pond area of Tupelo was the worst hit. Homes along the pond were swept into the water with their victims. The majority of the bodies were found in Gum Pond, the area which is now Gumtree Park. Reportedly, many bodies were never recovered from the pond. Reports were that the winds were so strong, pine needles were embedded into trunks of trees. As the tornado exited the city's east side, the large concrete Battle of Tupelo monument was toppled to the ground and destroyed. Two nearby brick gate posts were broken off at the base and blown over as well. East of town, granulated structural debris from the city was strewn and wind-rowed for miles through open fields. According to records, the Tupelo tornado leveled 48 city blocks and between 200–900 homes, killing at least 216 people and injuring at least 700 others. The tornado destroyed the water tower and produced numerous fires in its wake, though overnight rains which left knee-deep water in some streets contained the flames. Though 216 remained the final death toll, 100 persons were still hospitalized at the time it was set. Subsequently, the Mississippi State Geologist estimated a final, unofficial death toll of 233. Notably, among the survivors were one-year-old Elvis Presley and his parents.[20]

Gainesville, Georgia[edit]

Gainesville, Georgia
Tornadoes
confirmed
2
Max. rating1F4 tornado
Fatalities≥ 203 fatalities, ≥ 1,600 injuries
Damage$1212 million (1936 USD)
$264 million (2023 USD)
1Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita scale

After producing the Tupelo tornado, the storm system moved through Alabama overnight and reached Gainesville, Georgia, at around 8:30 a.m local standard time. According to Ted Fujita, this early morning tornado was a double tornado event: one tornado moved in from the Atlanta highway, while the other moved in from the Dawsonville highway. The two merged on Grove Street and destroyed everything throughout the downtown area, causing wreckage to pile 10 feet (3.0 m) high in some places. The worst tornado-caused death toll in a single building in U.S. history was at the Cooper Pants Factory. The multiple-story building was then filled with young workers, who had just arrived to work. The structure collapsed and caught fire, killing about 70 people. At the Pacolet Mill, 550 workers moved to the northeast side of the building and survived. Many people sought refuge in Newman's department store; its collapse killed 20 people. In addition to the complete destruction that occurred throughout downtown Gainesville, residential areas throughout the city were devastated as well, where 750 homes were destroyed and 254 others badly damaged.

The final death toll could not be calculated because many of the buildings that were hit collapsed and caught fire. A death toll of 203 people was posted, though at the time 40 people were yet missing. Letters from Gainesville were blown about 70 mi (110 km) away, to Anderson, South Carolina. The Gainesville tornadoes have been rated as F4s on the Fujita scale and together constituted fifth-deadliest tornado-related disaster in U.S. history. They caused nearly $13 million in damage, equivalent to over $200 million in 2011. Gainesville was also the site of another deadly F4 on June 1, 1903, which killed 98 people but did not affect the central business district; the Pacolet Mill was hit by both tornadoes. No other small town of similar size (population 17,000 in 1936) in the United States has experienced such devastation twice in its history. As a series of twin tornadoes generated by a single storm, both members of which occurred simultaneously, the 1936 event was similar to some of the tornadoes that occurred on April 11, 1965, including the F4 tornado families near Goshen and Dunlap, Indiana: the latter exhibiting multiple mesocyclones at once.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke from a train platform in Gainesville on April 9, after the devastating tornado struck the town a few days earlier.[21]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ An outbreak is generally defined as a group of at least six tornadoes (the number sometimes varies slightly according to local climatology) with no more than a six-hour gap between individual tornadoes. An outbreak sequence, prior to (after) the start of modern records in 1950, is defined as a period of no more than two (one) consecutive days without at least one significant (F2 or stronger) tornado.[3]
  2. ^ The Fujita scale was devised under the aegis of scientist T. Theodore Fujita in the early 1970s. Prior to the advent of the scale in 1971, tornadoes in the United States were officially unrated.[4][5] While the Fujita scale has been superseded by the Enhanced Fujita scale in the U.S. since February 1, 2007,[6] Canada used the old scale until April 1, 2013;[7] nations elsewhere, like the United Kingdom, apply other classifications such as the TORRO scale.[8]
  3. ^ Historically, the number of tornadoes globally and in the United States was and is likely underrepresented: research by Grazulis on annual tornado activity suggests that, as of 2001, only 53% of yearly U.S. tornadoes were officially recorded. Documentation of tornadoes outside the United States was historically less exhaustive, owing to the lack of monitors in many nations and, in some cases, to internal political controls on public information.[9] Most countries only recorded tornadoes that produced severe damage or loss of life.[10] Significant low biases in U.S. tornado counts likely occurred through the early 1990s, when advanced NEXRAD was first installed and the National Weather Service began comprehensively verifying tornado occurrences.[11]
  4. ^ a b All dates are based on the local time zone where the tornado touched down; however, all times are in Coordinated Universal Time and dates are split at midnight CST/CDT for consistency.
  5. ^ a b Prior to 1994, only the average widths of tornado paths were officially listed.[12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The deadliest disaster to ever happen in each state". MSN. Retrieved April 25, 2023.
  2. ^ Multiple sources:
  3. ^ Schneider, Russell S.; Brooks, Harold E.; Schaefer, Joseph T. (2004). Tornado Outbreak Day Sequences: Historic Events and Climatology (1875–2003) (PDF). 22nd Conf. Severe Local Storms. Hyannis, Massachusetts: American Meteorological Society. Retrieved September 17, 2019.
  4. ^ Grazulis 1993, p. 141.
  5. ^ Grazulis 2001a, p. 131.
  6. ^ Edwards, Roger (March 5, 2015). "Enhanced F Scale for Tornado Damage". The Online Tornado FAQ (by Roger Edwards, SPC). Storm Prediction Center. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  7. ^ "Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF-Scale)". Environment and Climate Change Canada. Environment and Climate Change Canada. June 6, 2013. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  8. ^ "The International Tornado Intensity Scale". Tornado and Storm Research Organisation. Tornado and Storm Research Organisation. 2016. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  9. ^ Grazulis 2001a, pp. 2514.
  10. ^ Edwards, Roger (March 5, 2015). "The Online Tornado FAQ (by Roger Edwards, SPC)". Storm Prediction Center: Frequently Asked Questions about Tornadoes. Storm Prediction Center. Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  11. ^ Cook & Schaefer 2008, p. 3135.
  12. ^ Brooks 2004, p. 310.
  13. ^ a b c d e f Grazulis 1993, p. 865.
  14. ^ a b c d Kincer 1936, p. 169.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g USWB 1936, p. 157.
  16. ^ Grazulis 1993, pp. 865–6.
  17. ^ a b c d e Grazulis 1993, p. 866.
  18. ^ a b c Kincer 1936, p. 170.
  19. ^ a b Kincer 1936, p. 171.
  20. ^ Multiple sources:
  21. ^ Multiple sources:

Sources[edit]

Oral histories of the Tupelo tornado[edit]