NORTH ALABAMA - The deadliest tornado to sweep across this country in the last 56 years began in Marion County, a few miles from the Mississippi line, where the highway signs now bend toward the ground along U.S. 78 west of Hamilton.
Trees blew over. Hamilton lost power. Yet for 10 miles, the massive storm largely churned above the wilderness, growing in ferocity, sucking moist afternoon air high into rotating clouds. Soon the system would spawn a tornado measuring more than a mile across.
The National Weather Service also reports evidence of satellite vortices, essentially twisters within twisters. Mesocyclone winds swirled along the outside edges, gusting toward the center.
This natural fury first encountered civilization at Hackleburg. A quiet town of 1,600 in the northeast corner of Marion County, the still-standing water tower boasts of a high school baseball championship in 2007. The chief employer had been the distribution center for Wrangler jeans.
Six days after the storm, Tommy Quinn picked through his few recognizable belongings. He held a picture his older brother had painted years ago and a clamp for his piano.
"I was thinking nothing is going to happen," said Quinn, 21, standing near what had been his childhood home. Listening to the weather report on TV, his sister-in-law chose to pack suitcases with diapers and photo albums and urge the family to the storm shelter.
On the Enhanced Fujita scale, a tornado ranks at the highest level of EF-5 when wind speeds top 200 mph. At that strength, brick homes are swept away. Concrete walls give way. Steel girders bend.
About a dozen separate tornadoes claimed more than 230 lives in Alabama on April 27. The storm that the National Weather Service now calls the Hackleburg Tornado, the one that traveled 132 miles and passed north of Huntsville, was the only one rated EF-5.
Ala Tornado: 132 Miles Of Devastation, Deadliest In U.S. In Last 56 Years - Huntsville Times
The Meck Report / Blog - May 10, 2011 - 10:34a