Tornado History of Russell County

Image is from the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Louisville

I thought it would be a good time to highlight the history of tornadoes striking Russell County. This Friday on All Things Russell, Jeff and Tony will talk with a survivor of the April 27th, 1971 tornado that was rated at the time an F4. One thing to note is that the F scale is now known as the EF scale of Enhanced Fujita Scale which was modified in 2007. Russell County has been struck by eight tornadoes dating back to 1933. There have probably been more tornadoes, but this is how far records from the National Weather Service date back. I was concerned to find in my research that three major tornadoes (EF3 and higher) have impacted Russell County including two rated EF4.

May 9th, 1933 

This tornado was rated F4 and impacted counties including Russell, Monroe, Cumberland, and Adair. The tornado was a long track tornado, lasting over 60 miles, and was more than likely part of a family of tornadoes. The violent tornado killed 36 people and left 87 injured.

Here is a summary from the National Weather Service.

This historic event began around 8 pm when there were 30 minutes of rain and hail in Tompkinsville, followed by five minutes of absolute calm.  The calm was shattered when a tornado touched down just southwest of town and moved northeast, directly into southern sections of the city. The path of utter destruction, in which everything was flattened, was a quarter-mile wide.  The damaged residences of O. C. Landrum and Oscar Sims marked the edges of the devastation. Between them was a treeless and fenceless waste, with scattered remnants of homes and uprooted trees.

A heavy rain, which fell continuously from 1 o’clock until 6 the following morning, made roads almost impassable and handicapped the work of rehabilitation.  Only three homes that were affected by the funnel were able to be salvaged.  World War I veterans described the devastation and suffering as worse than what they witnessed during the Great War.  The twisting nature of the winds was clearly revealed when the bodies of the Tyree family were found 75 yards south of their home site, and the bodies of the Redeford family were discovered 100 yards north of the spot where their home had stood.

The Tyrees lived on the southern edge of the storm area, while the Redefords lived near the northern edge.  The body of the Rev. Redeford’s wife was carried 150 yards to a pond on the land belonging to L. P. Hagan. The corpse of the husband was found entangled in a barbed-wire fence, having been blown about one hundred yards.  Sixteen people in Tompkinsville lost their lives that evening, with another 2 deaths just northeast of town in Sewell.  Fifty citizens were injured in Monroe County.  After Tompkinsville, the tornado continued to the northeast, crossing Cumberland County (2 people injured) and clipping the southeast corner of Adair County (2 people killed in the Cundiff area) with comparatively little damage, before intensifying again as it entered Russell County.  The tornado grew into a mile-wide monster as it plowed down at least 100 homes.

The edge of the tornado missed downtown Russell Springs by only half a mile.  The tornado spent its last fury in the Happy Acre area, causing damage along Goose Creek, near Friendship Church, and on the southern end of Bethany Ridge where chickens were stripped of their feathers.  The tornado lifted at the Casey County line

 

April 27th, 1971

Less than forty years after being devastated by an F4 tornado, Russell County would once again be in the path of another violent tornado. The tornado killed two in Russell County and injured 70. This F4 had a much shorter lifespan, only going 14 miles, but the impact was felt. The tornado struck just before 10:00 p.m. making it even more dangerous because it was at night and at a time when most were sleeping. Here’s the summary from the National Weather Service.

At Gosser Ridge, two people were killed on a farm as most of the buildings were swept away.  Along the path, 35 homes, four trailers, 60 barns, and 79 other buildings were destroyed.  There was major damage to 105 more homes.  The Salem School was damaged.  At one point, there were two distinct paths, as two funnels moved parallel to one another.

 

March 29th, 1974

Russell County would once again feel the wrath of a tornado when an F2 tornado struck just north of Jamestown destroying two trailers and a barn. The tornado was again a nighttime tornado, striking at 9:00 pm. There was one reported injury and luckily no deaths.

 

April 3rd, 1974 

Five days after the F2 struck, Russell County would be impacted by its fourth tornado on record (third major). This was known as the Super Outbreak of 1974. Multiple states including Kentucky were struck by numerous tornadoes with multiple violent-long track tornadoes. To give a little perspective, a tornado outbreak of this magnitude did not occur again until April 25th-27th 2011.

This tornado would once again be a nighttime tornado for the residents of Russel County. The tornado struck at 9:30 p.m. and impacted Russell, Pulaski, and portions of Rockcastle County. Luckily, no injuries or deaths were reported.

 

April 2nd, 1983

It would be nearly a decade before Russell County would record another confirmed tornado. This tornado struck just after 9:30 a.m. It was rated an F1 and one injury was reported.

 

May 6th, 1984 

This early morning tornado would strike Russell County just after 1:00 a.m. The tornado was rated as an F1. It appears this and the F1 on April 1983 are sort of forgotten about. It doing research, these tornadoes had the least amount of information other than the time and final rating.

 

March 28th, 1997

This is the first tornado that I can vaguely recall. It was rated an F0 and touched down around 7:50 p.m. It touched down near Kentucky 55 and struck Middletown and Half Acre. There were no injuries or deaths reported.

 

February 29th, 2012

This tornado is the most recent confirmed tornado to strike Russell County. The tornado touched down north of Russell Springs just after 1:20 p.m. It lasted for just over seven miles and was rated as an EF2. The tornado was a rain-wrapped tornado as most of the tornadoes in Kentucky are. A Rain-wrapped tornado simply means that you cannot see the tornado coming at you until it is right on top of you. It is shielded inside the rain and all you will see is a rain mass coming at you and then the tornado is right behind that rain.

Here’s a summary from the National Weather Service. The tornado first touched down north of Russell Springs in northern Russell County west of Highway 127 where it did minor damage to trees, barns, and outbuildings.  The tornado then intensified as it moved east with the worst damage occurring along a 1.5 mile stretch from Highway 76 east over Oak Grove Road to Pattie Ridge Road.  On Highway 76, two mobile homes were totally destroyed and a modular home was rotated 30-80 feet counterclockwise off its foundation (with a quarter of the home blown away).

Two residents survived in an underground tornado shelter where they took refuge having heard of the warning via sirens and phone calls 3-5 minutes before the tornado destroyed their homes.  Residents were not home at the time of the tornado at the other homes destroyed along its path.  The tornado then weakened as it moved into southern Casey County where it damaged more trees, barns, and outbuildings.

The tornado finally lifted west-southwest of Windsor leaving a 7.2-mile track.

It is hard to believe that so many tornadoes including multiple strong, violent tornadoes have impacted Russell County. While it has been nine years since Russell County’s last confirmed tornado, we know that they can strike in the area. I want to give some tips and also clear up some misconceptions before I end this post.

I want to explain how Tornado Warnings work and exactly how they are issued. I think a common mistake is people think that warnings are issued for an entire county. This is simply not the case as sometimes a Severe Thunderstorm Warning could be for a whole county if you are dealing with a squall line or Flood related warnings. For the most part, though warnings are issued for parts of a county, and if you really think about it even the largest tornadoes are very small compared to an entire county. A lot of people depend on the tornado sirens to get tornado warnings and sirens are county-based. This means that if a Tornado Warning is issued for the far southern portion of Russell County then if you are in northern Russell County you will hear those sirens sounding. In reality, if a warning comes out for extreme southern Russell County and you live at the Casey County border, you can go on about your business. Be sure and be weather aware to make sure no storms are coming for your location, but if you are not in the area where that warning is issued there is nothing you need to do.

The image above is an example of a tornado warning polygon that included the Nashville area of Davidson County, Tennessee. If you can see that you are inside that polygon then you need to take your tornado precautions. If you lived in the Hendersonville area then you are not in the warning and you don’t have to do anything. This leads me to address the issues of citizens using tornado sirens as their only means of getting a warning. The problem with that is these sirens are going to be nearly impossible to hear if a loud thunderstorm is coming through the area and you are in your house. Sure if you are outside they can be heard, but sires should never ever be your first way of getting a warning. I have always recommended folks have two ways of receiving severe weather warnings.

This image is of NOAA Weather Radio which is the industry standard in receiving severe weather warnings and information. These radios are not extremely expensive and can be found in Wal-Mart or other retailers and online. I highly recommend getting one of these. They are easy to program, but if you have trouble programming one, just send me an email to sean@lakercountry.com and I will set a time and date to help you with the programming. The vast majority of you also have a smartphone. I did not realize this until a couple of years ago, but our smartphones can give us basic severe weather warnings. I am sure it is similar on Android, but on your Phone, go to settings>notifications and then scroll all the to the bottom to make sure all of the Government Alerts are enabled. These alerts use the GPS inside your phone and if you are in the area where a warning is issued your phone will make a very loud noise and give you the very basic details and tell you to tune into local media for additional information. It is very important to have multiple ways of getting watches and warnings. We will always have the latest on LakerCountry 104.9, but you have to be sure you know how to get vital weather information.

Lastly, I will give some tips and supplies for a tornado safety plan. First, you need to know where you are going to go.

  • Storm cellar or basement if you have one if you don’t the first floor is absolutely fine
  • Lowest floor, near the center, away from windows
  • No mobile or manufactured homes
  • No cars

We have several community shelters in the county and that is a major blessing. Huge shoutout to our Emergency Management Personnel for helping to make all these shelters possible. Here are some supplies to have in your tornado safe place…

  • Helmets for everyone not just kids
  • Hard soul shoes
  • First Aid Kit
  • NOAA Weather Radio
  • Whistles or air horn in case you are unable to get out of your safe place
About Sean Hammond 2727 Articles
Sean Hammond is the host of "Mornings in Midtown" Monday thru Friday from 5:00 to 9:00 am and a contributor to lakercountry.com.