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On This Day in 1989, F-4 Tornado Strikes Huntsville

27 years ago to this day, the deadliest tornado to hit the city of Huntsville in almost 100 years touched down at 4:30pm local time. This tornado was apart of a series of tornadoes. The November 1989 Tornado Outbreak was a destructive tornado outbreak on November 15 and 16, 1989 across a wide swath of the southern and eastern United States and into Canada. It produced at least 40 tornadoes and caused 30 deaths as a result of two deadly tornadoes.

The National Severe Storms Forecast Center issued a Public Severe Weather Outlook at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday and highlighted the unusually strong potential for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes over the Tennessee Valley. The Birmingham Forecast Office followed with a Special Weather Statement at 10:50 a.m. with the headline, “MAJOR SEVERE WEATHER THREAT POISED FOR ALABAMA AND NORTHWEST FLORIDA!”.

A Tornado Watch was in effect for Madison and adjacent counties from 12:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.. Soon after the issuance of the watch, emergency management officials, storm spotters and the National Weather Service staff at Huntsville placed into effect a coordinated plan of action in accordance with established procedures. Beginning at 12:45 p.m., NWS Huntsville issued warnings for the west part of its county warning area as an intense squall line moved into northwest Alabama. Storm spotters reported large hail and intense straight-line wind associated with this squall line.

The twister was rated an F-4 tornado, killing 21 people and injuring 463 as it swept east down busy Airport Road at rush hour. 12 of the 21 deaths occurred in automobiles.

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The total path length was 18.5 miles from the initial beginning on the Redstone Arsenal to its end at the headwaters of Killingsworth Cove Branch. The damage path was generally about one half mile wide; however, it reached nearly one mile in width in the Flint River/US 72 area.

Images: NWS Birmingham

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