, Volume 84, Issue 2, pp 533–544 | Cite as

Spatial and temporal analysis of the 27 April 2011 tornado outbreak in Central Alabama

  • Whitney Flynn
  • Tanveer IslamEmail author


This study investigates the spatial and temporal patterns of the 27 April 2011 tornado outbreak in Central Alabama. Disasters, and vulnerabilities to such events, vary across space and time. The 2011 Super Outbreak was the largest, most costly, and one of the most deadly tornado outbreaks ever recorded in U.S. history. In this study, the results of 29 documented tornado tracks (889 data points total) in Central Alabama reveal findings related to complex topography and its effects on tornado intensity and damage. The temporal patterns of this particular outbreak are consistent with other studies’ evidence that suggests a small peak in nocturnal tornado activity in the southeast U.S. These are a few of the many factors that contribute to tornado vulnerability in the Deep South.


Tornado Outbreak 27 April 2011 Alabama GIS Spatial Temporal Damage Vulnerability 



The authors are grateful to two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and guidance to improve the paper. They would like to thank Dr. Graettinger and his group at the University of Alabama for providing data of the Tuscaloosa case study. Thanks to Jeff Smith for collecting NOAA data at the beginning of this project. This research was funded by the Jacksonville State University Faculty Research Grant.


This study was funded by Jacksonville State University Faculty Research Grant 2013–14.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and animal rights

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


  1. Ahmed, N., & Selvam, R. (2015). Ridge effects on tornado path deviation. International Journal of Civil and Structural Engineering Research, 3(1), 273–294.Google Scholar
  2. Ashley, W. S. (2007). Spatial and temporal analysis of tornado fatalities in the United States: 1880–2005. Weather and Forecasting, 22(6), 1214–1228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ashley, W. S., Krmenec, A. J., & Schwantes, R. (2008). Vulnerability due to nocturnal tornadoes. Weather and Forecasting, 23(5), 795–807.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Boruff, B. J., Easoz, J. A., Jones, S. D., Landry, H. R., Mitchem, J. D., & Cutter, S. L. (2003). Tornado hazards in the United States. Climate Research, 24(2), 103–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brodt, J. (1986). The Tri-State Tornado: March 18, 1925. Weatherwise, 39(2), 91–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brooks, H. E., Doswell, C. A., III, & Kay, M. P. (2003). Climatological estimates of local daily tornado probability for the United States. Weather and Forecasting, 18(4), 626–640.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Coleman, T. A., & Dixon, P. G. (2014). An objective analysis of tornado risk in the United States. Weather & Forecasting, 29(2), 366–376. Scholar
  8. Corfidi, S. F., Weiss, S. J., Kain, J. S., Corfidi, S. J., Rabin, R. M., & Levit, J. J. (2010). Revisiting the 3–4 April 1974 super outbreak of tornadoes. Weather and Forecasting, 25(2), 465–510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Crawford, P. S. (2014). Methodology for a GIS-based damage assessment for researchers following large scale disasters (Doctoral dissertation, The University of Alabama TUSCALOOSA).Google Scholar
  10. Curtis, A., & Mills, J. W. (2012). Spatial video data collection in a post-disaster landscape: the Tuscaloosa tornado of April 27th 2011. Applied Geography, 32(2), 393–400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Doswell, C. A., III, Edwards, R., Thompson, R. L., Hart, J. A., & Crosbie, K. C. (2006). A simple and flexible method for ranking severe weather events. Weather and Forecasting, 21(6), 939–951. Scholar
  12. Elsner, J. B., & Fricker T. (2017). Human vulnerability to tornadoes in the United States is highest in urbanized areas of the mid south. SocArXiv 22 August 2017. Web.Google Scholar
  13. FEMA. (2013). Meteorological background and tornado events of 2011. Retrieved January 9, 2017 from
  14. Fuhrmann, C. M., Konrad, C. E., Kovach, M. M., McLeod, J. T., Schmitz, W. G., & Dixon, P. G. (2014). Ranking of tornado outbreaks across the United States and their climatological characteristics. Weather and Forecasting, 29(3), 684–701.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Galway, J. G. (1981). Ten famous tornado outbreaks. Weatherwise, 34(3), 100–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Graettinger, A. J., Grau, D., Van De Lindt, J., & Prevatt, D. O. (2012). GIS for the geo-referenced analysis and rapid dissemination of forensic evidence collected in the aftermath of the Tuscaloosa tornado. In Construction research congress (pp. 2170–2179).Google Scholar
  17. Grazulis, T. P. (1993). Significant tornadoes, 1680–1991. St. Johnsbury, VT: Enviromental Films. Scholar
  18. Grazulis, T. P. (2001). The tornado: Nature’s ultimate windstorm. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.Google Scholar
  19. Hall, S. G., & Ashley, W. S. (2008). Effects of urban sprawl on the vulnerability to a significant tornado impact in northeastern Illinois. Natural Hazards Review, 9(4), 209–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Karstens, C. D., Gallus, W. A., Jr., Lee, B. D., & Finley, C. A. (2013). Analysis of tornado-induced tree fall using aerial photography from the Joplin, Missouri, and Tuscaloosa–Birmingham, Alabama, tornadoes of 2011. Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, 52(5), 1049–1068.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kazek, K. (2015). Alabama ranks No. 1 in most violent tornadoes. When and where have they struck? Retrieved January 30, 2017 from
  22. Kis, A. K., & Straka, J. M. (2010). Nocturnal tornado climatology. Weather and Forecasting, 25(2), 545–561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Klockow, K. E., Peppler, R. A., & McPherson, R. A. (2014). Tornado folk science in Alabama and Mississippi in the 27 April 2011 tornado outbreak. GeoJournal, 79(6), 791–804.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Knupp, K. R., Murphy, T. A., Coleman, T. A., Wade, R. A., Mullins, S. A., Schultz, C. J., et al. (2014). Meteorological overview of the devastating 27 April 2011 tornado outbreak. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 95(7), 1041–1062.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Locatelli, J. D., Stoelinga, M. T., & Hobbs, P. V. (2002). A new look at the super outbreak of tornadoes on 3–4 April 1974. Monthly Weather Review, 130(6), 1633–1651.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lyza, A. W., & Knupp, K. (2014). An observational analysis of potential terrain influences on tornado behavior. In 27th conference on severe local storms (Vol. 11). Madison, WI: American Meteorological Society.Google Scholar
  27. Maddox, R. A., Gilmore, M. S., Doswell, C. A., III, Johns, R. H., Crisp, C. A., Burgess, D. W., et al. (2013). Meteorological analyses of the Tri-State Tornado event of March 1925. E-Journal of Severe Storms Meteorology, 8(1), 1–27.Google Scholar
  28. National Weather Service. (2016). Alabama tornado database— Retrieved November 14, 2016 from
  29. NOAA. (n.d.). Alabama tornado statistics. Retrieved January 30, 2017 from
  30. NOAA. (2011). Service assessment: The historic tornadoes of April 2011. Retrieved from
  31. Selvam, R. P., Strasser, M. N., Ahmed, N., Yousef, M., & Ragan, Q. S. (2015). Observations of the influence of hilly terrain on tornado path and intensity from the damage investigation of the 2014 tornado in Mayflower, Arkansas. In Structures congress 2015 (pp. 2711–2721).Google Scholar
  32. Shafer, C. M., & Doswell, C. A., III. (2010). A multivariate index for ranking and classifying severe weather outbreaks. Electronic Journal of Severe Storms Meteorology, 5(1), 1–39.Google Scholar
  33. Simmons, K., Sutter, D., & Pielke, R. (2012). 8. Blown away: Monetary and human impacts of the 2011 US tornadoes. The Geneva Reports, 107(5), 107–120.Google Scholar
  34. Sims, J. H., & Baumann, D. D. (1972). The tornado threat: Coping styles of the north and south. Science, 176(4042), 1386–1392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Stimers, M., & Paul, B. K. (2017). Can elevation be associated with the 2011 Joplin, Missouri, tornado fatalities? An empirical study. Journal of Geography and Natural Disasters, 7(202), 2167-0587.Google Scholar
  36. Storm Prediction Center (SPC). (2015). The 10 costliest U.S. tornadoes since 1950. Retrieved November 14, 2016 from$.htm.
  37. Suckling, P. W., & Ashley, W. S. (2006). Spatial and temporal characteristics of tornado path direction*. The Professional Geographer, 58(1), 20–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Thompson, R. L., & Vescio, M. D. (1998) The destruction potential index: A method for comparing tornado days. In 19th conerence on severe local storms (pp. 280–282), Minneapolis, MN: American Meteorological Society.Google Scholar
  39. US Department of Commerce, NOAA, National Weather Service. (2016). April 27th, 2011 GIS data. Retrieved November 15, 2017 from
  40. Yuan, M., Dickens-Micozzi, M., & Magsig, M. A. (2002). Analysis of tornado damage tracks from the 3 May tornado outbreak using multispectral satellite imagery. Weather and Forecasting, 17(3), 382–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Water Center, Office of Water PredictionNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)TuscaloosaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Emergency ManagementJacksonville State UniversityJacksonvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations