Alabama tornadoes: 2 twisters struck Jefferson County in single supercell, killing one person each

Top Stories

* Food safety: 10 kitchen mistakes
* 2012 Mardi Gras photo contest
* Official state bread? Cornbread vs. biscuits

Home > Breaking News from The Birmingham News > Breaking News
Alabama tornadoes: 2 twisters struck Jefferson County in single supercell, killing one person each (with slideshow)
Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2012, 5:00 AM Updated: Wednesday, January 25, 2012, 9:15 AM
Mike Oliver, The Birmingham News By Mike Oliver, The Birmingham News The Birmingham News
Share close
Digg Stumble Upon Fark Reddit
Share Email Print

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley Visits Tornada Damaged Areas In Center Point And Clay Alabama Governor Robert Bentley Visits Tornada Damaged Areas In Center Point And Clay CENTER POINT, Alabama — Alabama Governor Robert Bentley toured tornado affected areas in Center Point and Clay Alabama Tuesday January 24, 2012 and stopped at Center Point Elementary School that will be torn down due to the amount of damage from the storm. (The Birmingham News/Frank Couch) Watch video

It was two tornadoes — not one — that roared through Jefferson County Monday morning, killing one person each.

Those two deadly tornadoes came out of a single supercell thunderstorm path that in all produced four tornadoes from Tuscaloosa to St. Clair County.

"A lot of times it is described as a tornado skipping, but it's really not skipping," said Jim Stefkovich, meteorologist in charge of Birmingham's National Weather Service. "It's a cycle, the storm produces a tornado, it weakens and lifts and then another one is created."

A clearer picture of the deadly storm emerged Tuesday as weather teams surveyed damage in order to assess the tornadoes' strength, their number and their paths for the historical record.

So far, the weather service has identified as many as seven long-track supercell thunderstorm paths that night in central Alabama — some of which may or may not have produced tornadoes, he said.

125TORNTRACK.jpgView full size

The weather service has confirmed seven tornadoes in all but will likely confirm more in upcoming days. For example, a team studied tornado damage in Chilton County Tuesday where at least one tornado has been confirmed, but others may be confirmed today.

The supercell that swept through Jefferson County started in Pickens County and produced its first tornado — an EF-3 with peak winds of 140 mph — in Tuscaloosa County in the Koffman area at 2:42 a.m., according to the weather service survey.

The 400-yard-wide tornado stayed on the ground about a half-mile, uprooting trees, destroying a barn and another outbuilding, and taking the roof off of a house.

The second tornado in the path also touched down in Tuscaloosa County just west of the Black Warrior River along Watermelon Road at 3 a.m. The 300-yard-wide tornado also stayed down only about a half-mile. Packing winds of 115 mph, the EF-2 tornado hit a hunting camp and rolled eight camper trailers. No injuries or fatalities were reported.

The third tornado in the storm touched down at 3:09 a.m. just east of the Black Warrior River near the Tuscaloosa and Jefferson county line, one mile west of Groundhog Road. The EF-2 rated tornado killed 81-year-old Bobby Frank Sims in his mobile home near Toadvine Road. The 880-yard-wide tornado stayed on the ground 18 minutes, traveling 13 miles before lifting just southwest of Short Creek along Toadvine.

The storm, continuing its northeastward trajectory, produced its final tornado at 3:58 a.m., touching down along Pawnee Village Road about 3 miles northeast of Tarrant. The 800-yard-wide EF-3 tornado, with peak winds of 150 mph, moved through downtown Center Point, damaging businesses before moving to Old Springville Road near the town of Clay, where 16-year-old Christina Nicole Heichelbech was killed when her home was hit.

Other tornadoes confirmed Tuesday include an EF-0, with winds of 65 mph to 85 mph in Sumter County and an EF-1, with winds of 86 mph to 110 mph in Elmore County.

While tornadoes in January appear less frequently than in the spring, the historical record suggests it isn't rare, said Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Storm Prediction Center.

In fact, Alabama has had tornadoes in January in eight of the last 10 years, and there have been 90 January tornadoes since 1950, he said.

The most recent fatality in January for the state was Jan. 3, 2006, in Conecuh County. The deadliest January tornado was Jan. 24, 1964, when an EF-4 tornado killed 10 in Shelby County.

"These records in the database would suggest the state is vulnerable during the first part of the year even though it's winter," Carbin said.

Join the conversation by clicking to comment or email Oliver at moc.swenmahb|revilom#moc.swenmahb|revilom.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License