Two video stills, only seconds apart, of the Rainsville tornado as it rapidly strengthens to maximum intensity. At right, the appearance of the tornado over Lingerfelt Road. (Video by YORKBAMA)
□ During the April 27th, 2011 Super Outbreak, a tornado of incredible ferocity left a streak of devastation through northeast Alabama. The tornado carved a modest 34 mile path, significantly shorter than many other tornadoes that day, but the intensity of the damage near the community of Rainsville was astounding. Some of the most powerful instances of tornado damage ever recorded occurred within a one mile long corridor along Lingerfelt Road, just east of central Rainsville. In DeKalb County, 25 people lost their lives and more than 200 homes were destroyed. The EF5 tornado’s damage path was unusual and showed bizarre selectivity. Narrow bursts of extreme destruction were surrounded on all sides by damage of lesser intensity. In some cases, EF5 damage was found within 80ft of seemingly undisturbed trees. Visual documentation of the tornado indicates it had a complex multiple vortex structure.
*Special thanks to the Robinson family for their photographs and personal stories.
Nine miles after touchdown, the tornado entered a populated neighborhood in eastern Rainsville. The tornado’s first fatalities occurred in this area.
Visual appearance of the Rainsville tornado as it was causing near-EF5 damage. The videographer was on Main Street in downtown Rainsville, about one mile west of the tornado. Distinct multiple vortices are clearly visible. (Youtube/pitwagonweb)
According to an NWS contour map, the tornado was at EF5 strength as it crossed Main Street. The DeKalb County School Coliseum (large structure at right center) and adjacent homes only experienced moderate damage, however. Genuine EF5 damage commenced a half mile northeast of this area.
A school bus was blown from the parking lot of the coliseum and stripped down to its metal chassis. Home damage nearby was of EF2 to EF3 intensity, but vehicle damage of this severity is rare and an indication incredibly violent winds were imbedded somewhere within the tornado.
A cul-de-sac of large homes was swept away along Marshall Road. Extreme winds and high velocity debris left unusual gouge marks in a field downwind. Damage in this area was approaching EF5 intensity.
Before and after views of the devastated cul-de-sac.
A stone home on Skaggs Road (top center) was swept completely away, resulting in one fatality and two serious injuries. The NWS survey team documented a section of the home’s foundation that was pulled from the ground. This likely occurred when a stone column anchored to the underlying concrete was torn away.
Severe damage to a large, two-story home on Lingerfelt Road (incorrectly spelled “Lingerfeldt” in the NWS survey report). The position of fallen trees indicate a small scale vortex passed directly over the home before entering a wooded area to the northeast.
Close aerial view of the home in the image above.
Some of the most powerful tornado damage ever surveyed occurred at the Robinson family property at 1608 Lingerfelt Road. A large, two-story brick home was swept completely away and sections of pavement were ripped from the driveway (visible as light spots at top center). Even more impressively, the tornado ripped an 800lb safe that had been anchored to the home’s foundation and threw it 200 yards to the north. The door to the safe, which had been closed, was torn completely off. Additionally, a heavy concrete porch weighing thousands of pounds was shattered and blown away, and heavy supporting anchors were torn from the ground. The Robinson family fled the tornado in a vehicle, but several neighbors survived inside an adjacent underground storm shelter. The tornado scoured dirt and ripped open a section of the shelter’s roof, partially exposing the people huddled inside. (NWS Rainsville Tornado Survey, 2011)
Wide view of the Robinson home and surrounding areas. The strangely selective nature of the damage is apparent. Grass near the empty foundation was partially scoured away, yet trees 80ft to the east stand seemingly untouched. A truck that had been parked at the Robinson home was mangled beyond recognition and found 250 yards to the north (near the top edge of the image).
At left, the cab of the truck that was thrown 250 yards from the Robinson residence. This was the largest piece that remained of the vehicle. At right, the 800lb Liberty safe that was ripped from its anchorage and thrown 200 yards. (Images courtesy of Colt Robinson)
Image of the Liberty Safe showing how it was anchored to the home’s foundation. (Image courtesy of Colt Robinson)
The remains of Colt Robinson’s truck (the truck referenced in the NWS survey) as it was being towed away by the insurance company. (Image courtesy of Colt Robinson)
Before view of the two large, two-story homes that were obliterated on Lingerfelt Road. The Robinson residence is at bottom left.
Tammy Robinson shows an AP reporter the remains of her home on April 29th. Strangely, despite the incredible oddities that occurred at the residence, the trees behind the home seem remarkably intact, and the grass in the foreground does not appear to have been scoured. The foundation is also unusually clean, with most of the debris having been blown 200 yards to the north into a wooded area. Aerial imagery showed noticeable grass and pavement scouring 50ft north of the home, and trees across the street were pulverized in EF5 fashion. Therefore, it seems possible an extremely powerful vortex descended from the tornado and made contact with the ground just north of the home. Damage this selective is extremely rare. (AP Photo/Billy Weeks)
Extreme tree damage to a tall, thick grove of pine trees on Crow Lane. The few remaining tree trunks have been stripped of bark and branches and snapped at ground level. Vegetation damage of this severity is likely an indication of EF5 winds.
Close up view of a damaged truck northeast of Crow Lane. (Image by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Free Press)
Debarked trees and partially scoured vegetation highlight the tornado’s path through a rural area northeast of Rainsville. (Image by Mark Almond/The Birmingham News)
The NWS survey team described the damage in this neighborhood as “near EF5 in intensity.” Frame homes were swept completely away along County Road 441 and vehicles were thrown long distances and found wrapped around trees to the northeast. Additionally, the survey team documented streaks of ground scouring and sections of pavement that were removed from a sidewalk.
Before view of two homes that were swept completely away (visible in the lower left corner of the previous image).
Bursts of extreme winds left pockets of scoured grass northeast of Rainsville.
Homes and businesses were leveled and swept away along County Road 27. The tornado had expanded by the time it reached this area and was leaving a damage swath more than a half mile wide.
Two large chicken houses were swept cleanly away near County Road 591. The tornado had weakened slightly as it entered this area, but was still causing pockets of near EF5 damage. More fatalities occurred farther north in neighborhoods to the east of Sylvania and Henagar, but no clear instances of EF5 damage were documented north of County Road 112.