Oak Grove F-5 Tornado of April 8, 1998… A Look Back…Wednesday Eve Update #alwx
April 8, 2015 Leave a comment
On this date in 1998, a deadly tornado tracked across central Alabama. Many know this as the Oak Grove tornado, but this was part of an outbreak that stretched across a good portion of the US. 32 people were killed in Alabama that day… Here’s information below from the National Weather Service and other sources…
The April 6–9, 1998 tornado outbreak was a large tornado outbreak that started on April 6 across the Great Plains and ended on April 9 across the Carolinas and Georgia. A total of 62 tornadoes touched down from the Middle Atlantic States to the Midwestern United States and Texas. The outbreak is infamous for producing a deadly F5 that tore through the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama, killing 32 people. The Birmingham tornado was one of only two F5 tornadoes that year. The other hit in Lawrence County, Tennessee on April 16, as part of the same outbreak as the 1998 Nashville tornadoes.
Shortly after 7:30 P.M. on April 8th, the deadliest tornado of the outbreak touched down in extreme eastern Tuscaloosa County and cut a 31-mile long, 3/4-mile wide swath through multiple Birmingham suburbs, producing damage ranging from F3 to F5 and causing massive destruction before lifting in the western limits of the City of Birmingham, just northwest of the junctions of Interstates 20, 59 and 65. The worst of the destruction occurred across the Oak Grove, Rock Creek and McDonald Chapel areas. The second area affected by F5 damage was also devastated by a violent tornado in 1956 that tracked through the same areas hit by this storm. Debris from the tornado was scattered across central Alabama as far north as sections of Blount County, and extensive deforestation occurred along the majority of the path.
The tornado began in a rural area of Tuscaloosa County, causing only F0 damage in that area. The tornado reached F1 intensity after it entered Jefferson County, and then rapidly intensified to an F3 as it slammed into Oak Grove, an unincorporated town west of Rock Creek. Oak Grove was one of the hardest hit locations, with many structures destroyed in the area. Oak Grove High School sustained major structural damage, with the elementary school portion destroyed. The school building was rebuilt two years later and reopened a mile away from the damaged area. No one inside the school was killed, but a group of cheerleaders practicing at the school’s gymnasium escaped disaster with only minor injuries when a wall prevented a portion of the roof from falling on them. The tornado caused its first three fatalities in Oak Grove, which occurred when a mobile home completely disintegrated, throwing the occupants across the street. The Oak Grove fire station was severely damaged as well.
The tornado continued to intensify dramatically as it moved northeast, reaching F5 intensity as it struck Rock Creek. Many homes in the town were leveled or swept completely away, and the roof of Rock Creek Church of God was blown off. Several cars parked in the church parking lot were thrown into a 50-foot ravine. The church was turned into makeshift trauma center immediately after the tornado. A total of eleven people were killed in Rock Creek. The far western fringes of Concord were impacted in this area as well (particularly the Warrior River Road area). The tornado weakened slightly to F4 intensity as it struck the neighboring community of Sylvan Springs, where many additional homes were completely leveled, and four people were killed. Homes were damaged and destroyed just outside of Pleasant Grove as well.
Continuing past Pleasant Grove, the tornado began to encroach on Birmingham’s inner suburbs. This tornado regained its maximum F5 strength as it tore through the communities of Edgewater and McDonald Chapel. Fourteen people lost their lives in that area and the storm swept away numerous homes. Though it was dark, a massive power failure occurred in western Birmingham, when several transmission lines coming from the Miller Steam Plant electric generating station were knocked off line. The storm began to weaken somewhat as it crossed State Route 269 into the northern Birmingham neighborhood of Pratt City, though it was still very powerful. F3 damage and several injuries occurred in Pratt City before the tornado abruptly dissipated. Had the tornado remained on the ground, it would have gone into the northern sections of downtown Birmingham. A few miles further to the east, the Birmingham International Airport could have been affected as well. The storm lifted before reaching these sections of Birmingham. However, a new F2 tornado touched down again in neighboring St. Clair County, where two people were killed.
The tornado was at the time the seventh deadliest in Alabama history, killing one more person than in a tornado that hit Alabama on March 21, 1932. One young boy died nine days after this event from head injuries. His father was paralyzed from the waist down, and his mother suffered severe injuries. Another mother and her two children, despite taking shelter in their underground basement, were killed when hundreds of pounds of debris was blown onto them. Overall, 32 people were killed by the tornado and hundreds more were injured.
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