|Type Tornado outbreak|
Tornadoes confirmed ≥ 36
Duration of tornado outbreak ~13 hours
|Duration March 21–22, 1932|
Start date March 21, 1932
|Damage ≥ $4.34 million (1932 USD; $72.9 million 2012 USD)|
Similar Enigma tornado outbreak, 1908 Dixie tornado outbreak, Flint–Worcester tornado outbreak, Late‑November 2005 tornado o, 1994 Palm Sunday tornado o
The 1932 Deep South tornado outbreak was a deadly tornado outbreak that struck the Southern United States on March 21–22, 1932. At least 36 tornadoes—including 27 killers and several long-lived tornado families—struck the Deep South, killing more than 330 people and injuring 2,141. Tornadoes affected areas from Mississippi north to Illinois and east to South Carolina, but Alabama was hardest hit, with 268 fatalities; the outbreak is considered to be the deadliest ever in that U.S. state, and among the worst ever in the United States, trailing only the Tri-State Tornado outbreak in 1925, with 747 fatalities, and the Tupelo-Gainesville outbreak in 1936, with 454 fatalities. The 1932 outbreak produced 10 violent tornadoes, classified F4 or F5 on the Fujita scale of tornado intensity, eight of which occurred in Alabama alone, and is surpassed only by the March 1952 tornado outbreak, with 11 violent tornadoes; the 2011 Super Outbreak, with 15; the 1965 Palm Sunday tornado outbreak, with 17; and the 1974 Super Outbreak, with 30.
At 8 a.m. EST (7 a.m. CST/1200 UTC), a low pressure area of about 991 mb (29.26 inHg) was over eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas, with warm air moving north from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mississippi Valley. Conditions in Alabama and Mississippi were mostly cloudy with early thunderstorm activity, yet temperatures were already in the low 70s and upper 60s°F in Mississippi and western Tennessee. By afternoon, temperatures rose to the middle to upper 70s°F across most of the area. As a cold front approached Alabama, forecasters predicted afternoon thunderstorms and an end to the warm temperatures but did not anticipate the magnitude of the severe weather that later hit most of the state from north of Montgomery to the Tennessee and Georgia borders.
Cox/Union Grove, Alabama
Forming 30 minutes after the Tuscaloosa tornado, the deadliest tornado of the outbreak carved a path 60 mi (97 km) long southeast of Birmingham across Perry, Bibb, Chilton, Shelby, and Coosa counties in Central Alabama. Also the longest-tracked single tornado to touch down this day, it was followed an hour later by another F4 tornado, on a path 8 mi (13 km) to the southeast. Each killed an estimated 19 people in Chilton County alone. The first, earlier event killed 21 people, including entire families, near the town of Jemison and in the Union Grove community, both in Chilton County. The Cox community east of Lawley in Bibb County was purportedly leveled. In Perry County alone, 21 people died and 150 families were left homeless. In one family, seven people died. The tornado devastated communities in and near Jemison, and 49 people were killed by this single tornado—the largest death toll by a single tornado in Alabama until both the Hackleburg EF5 and the Tuscaloosa—Birmingham EF4 tornadoes produced 72 and 64 fatalities, respectively, on April 27, 2011.
Rural Jackson County, Alabama/Jasper, Tennessee
An event likely consisting of two or three tornadoes, it killed two people upon touching down and went on to hit many rural communities, particularly in Jackson County, Alabama, where it destroyed 125 homes. Two fatalities were at Lacey’s Spring, south of Huntsville, and four at Paint Rock. 32 of the 38 fatalities were in Jackson County, with two or more near eight small communities each. In Tennessee, a couple died as 15 homes were struck east of Jasper. The tornado produced 500 injuries, the most done by any tornado this date. However, this total may have not been produced by a single tornado, for of the 38 total fatalities, many were 10 mi (16 km) north or south of a straight path, suggesting the event was in fact a tornado family. One check from a community in Northeast Alabama, where four people died, was carried 105 mi (169 km) to Athens, Tennessee. Additionally, a live chicken was found in a dresser drawer one week after the tornado hit Jackson County. The tornado family moved from south of Huntsville to northwest of Bridgeport and thence into Tennessee.
As the outbreak progressed, eight other F4 tornadoes struck Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia. In Alabama, within four hours of the first F4 tornado, 18 people were killed near the Cullman area in Cullman County; 14 in the Columbiana area in Shelby County; 41 in Coosa and Talladega counties near Sylacauga; and 38 people in small communities, mostly in (Jackson County), in Northeastern Alabama. One of the tornadoes followed the deadly Jemison event by one hour and passed just 8 mi (13 km) to the southeast, killing 31 people in and around the Clanton area in Chilton County.
Outside Alabama, six people were killed near Pulaski, Tennessee, in Giles County (just north of the Alabama state line). 13 people in the state died from this and six other strong tornadoes. In Georgia, a large tornado near the Tennessee-Georgia state line left a mile-wide damage path, and killed 15 people from Beaverdale (Whitfield County) to Conasauga (Polk County). Two other tornadoes in Georgia killed a combined 16 people and were on the ground almost simultaneously. On March 22, tornadoes continued after midnight EST (11:00 p.m. CST/0400 UTC) as four more strong tornadoes struck Georgia and South Carolina until 3:00 a.m. EST (2:00 a.m. CST/0700 UTC). One of them passed near the University of Georgia in Athens and killed 12 people.
At least 25 cities and communities in Alabama reported one fatality or more during the day, including Demopolis, Union Grove, Linden, Plantersville, Sycamore, Northport, Huntsville, Marion, Stanton, Scottsboro, Paint Rock, Columbiana, Faunsdale, Bethel Church, Jemison, Falkville, Sylacauga, Bridgeport, Lineville, Gantts Quarry, Cullman, and Corinth. Eleven counties were particularly hard hit, with 7,000 homes and businesses destroyed statewide. Seven tornadoes each caused at least 100 injuries in Alabama and Tennessee, with a total of 1,750 injuries in Alabama alone. Seventy-eight percent, or 262, of all 334 fatalities in the outbreak were caused by F4 tornadoes; of these fatalities, 91% were in Alabama alone. In all, the 36 recorded tornadoes caused at least $4.34 million (1932 USD) in damages for the entire outbreak.
The March 21 outbreak is also nicknamed the "Super Outbreak" by the National Weather Service office in Birmingham. While Alabama was the hardest-hit state with 86 fatalities, 75 of which were tornado-related, during the 1974 event, there were nearly three times as many fatalities in the state on March 21, 1932. Also, many tornadoes in rural areas this day likely caused more injuries and probably higher fatalities than reported, as newspapers paid little attention to the deaths of Black sharecroppers, whose families and identities were often unknown. Such a racial aspect was common during natural disasters in the South before desegregation in the late 20th century. The 1932 outbreak was also known for its violence: it set a 24-hour record for violent touchdowns in a single state until the 1974 Super Outbreak produced 11 F4 or F5 tornadoes in Kentucky.
Just six days later, on March 27, several other tornadoes struck Alabama again, with an F3 tornado traveling 30 mi (48 km), passing south of Jemison, and killing five people near Thorsby and Collins Chapel. Sightseers who visited the area to view damage from March 21 were forced to take shelter as the funnel cloud neared. This tornado was photographed and incorrectly labeled as the F4 tornado that hit the area, also near Jemison in Shelby County, on March 21.