1936 Tupelo-Gainesville tornado outbreak

1936 Tupelo-Gainesville tornado outbreak

1936 Tupelo–Gainesville tornado outbreak
Date of tornado outbreak: April 5–6, 1936
Duration1: 12-16 hours
Maximum rated tornado2: F5 tornado
Tornadoes caused: ≥ 12
Highest winds:
Largest hail:
Damages: $3 million in Tupelo, $12.5 million in Gainesville, Georgia
Fatalities: ≥ 454
Areas affected: Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee

1Time from first tornado to last tornado
2Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita Scale

The 1936 Tupelo–Gainesville tornado outbreak was an outbreak[1] of at least 12 tornadoes that struck the Southeastern United States from April 5–6, 1936. Approximately 454 people were killed by these tornadoes—419 by two tornadoes alone. This outbreak is the second deadliest ever recorded in US history. Although the outbreak was centered on Tupelo, Mississippi, and Gainesville, Georgia, other destructive tornadoes associated with the outbreak struck Columbia, Tennessee, Anderson, South Carolina and Acworth, Georgia. Severe flash floods from the associated storms produced millions of dollars in damage across the region.

Confirmed tornadoes

April 5 event

F# Location County Time (UTC) Path length Damage
F3 NNE of Melbourne Izard 2100 6 miles (9.7 km) 1 death — A tornado struck the "Larkin" community, 7 miles (11 km) north-northeast of town. It destroyed 12 homes in its path.[2] Losses were estimated to be $40,000.[3]
F4 N of Olivehill to S of Hohenwald Hardin, Wayne, Lewis 0145 35 miles (56 km) 6 deaths — A tornado destroyed buildings in small communities, including nearly all in the "Smith's Branch" mining village. There, it killed four people and injured 27. Many rural homes were reportedly leveled as the tornado passed about 10 miles (16 km) north of Waynesboro.[2] Total losses reached $10,000.[3]
F3 NW of Columbia Maury 0230 5 miles (8.0 km) 5 deaths — A tornado leveled large homes and hovels in a mining village near Monsanto, 6 miles (9.7 km) northwest of Columbia. A total of 30 home were damaged or destroyed, with losses estimated at $50,000.[2]
F3 Booneville Prentiss 0205 15 miles (24 km) 4 deaths — A tornado destroyed large homes in the northwest section of town, killing three people in one of them. The tornado also destroyed smaller homes.[2]
F3 S of Coffeeville Yalobusha 0210 18 miles (29 km) 4 deaths — The first member of the Tupelo tornado family[3] destroyed hundreds of pine trees and leveled five homes. All four deaths were in one of them.[2]
F5 North Tupelo Lee, Itawamba 0255 15 miles (24 km) 216+ deathsSee section on this tornado — At least 700 injuries were reported, with damages of up to more than $3 million.[4] Many well-built structures were leveled and swept away on the west side of the city.[2]
F3 SW of Red Bay, AL Itawamba, Franklin (AL), Colbert (AL) 0302 25 miles (40 km) 8 deaths — A tornado damaged or destroyed 30 homes in Red Bay, killing four people. It then destroyed another home 3 miles (4.8 km) west of Frankfort (northwest of Russellville).[2]
F3 E of Rogersville to near Flintville, TN Lauderdale, Limestone, Madison, Lincoln (TN) 0415 50 miles (80 km) 5 deaths — A tornado family produced most of its damage to farms southeast of Elkmont, Alabama. There, four people died as their small homes were leveled. Papers marked from Tupelo, Mississippi, landed in fields near Flintville in Tennessee. Nearby, a woman died at "Shady Grove".[2]
Sources: Grazulis (1993)

April 6

F# Location County Time (UTC) Path length Damage
F3 NE of Acworth Cobb, Cherokee 1222 8 miles (13 km) A tornado hit near downtown Acworth, destroying two homes, a store, and a grist mill.[5] The tornado injured two women.[3]
F? N of Gainesville to New Holland Hall 1327 about 1 mile (1.6 km) The first of three destructive tornadoes to strike Gainesville hit Brenau College (now a university) and continued east into New Holland.[3]
F4 Downtown Gainesville Hall 1337 7 miles (11 km) 203+ deathsSee section on this tornado — Two major tornadoes merged near Grove Street and produced devastating damage to downtown businesses.[3] This was the most destructive tornado of the outbreak, with $12.5 million in losses.[5] Approximately 750 homes were destroyed and 254 were severely damaged.
F2 W of Carnesville to Lavonia Franklin 1500 15 miles (24 km) 1 death — A tornado first destroyed four homes in the Carnesville area and went on to destroy five more[5] in Lavonia.[3] It also damaged 15 other homes in Lavonia.[5]
South Carolina
F2 Near Anderson Anderson 1455 15 miles (24 km) 1 death — A tornado destroyed approximately 50 homes on the west and north sides of Anderson. It killed an elderly farmer as it destroyed farm homes nearby. Total losses reached $300,000 as two massive mills were leveled.[5]
Sources: Grazulis (1993)

Notable tornadoes

Tupelo, Mississippi

Around 8:30 p.m., April 5, 1936, the Tupelo tornado, the fourth-deadliest tornado in United States history, emerged from a complex of storm cells and touched down in a rural area approximately eight miles outside of the city.[6] Making its way toward Tupelo, the massive tornado killed a family of 13 as their house was swept away, and injured many more before reaching Tupelo's west side.[6] Retroactively rated F5 on the modern Fujita scale,[2] it caused total destruction along its path through the Willis Heights neighborhood. Dozens of large and well built mansions were swept completely away in this area.[2][7] Although missing the business district, the tornado moved through the residential areas of north Tupelo, destroying many homes, and killing whole families.[2] The Gum Pond area of Tupelo was the worst hit. Homes along the pond were swept into the water with their victims.[8] The majority of the bodies were found in Gum Pond,[9] the area which is now Gumtree Park. Reportedly, many bodies were never recovered from the pond.[10] Reports were that the winds were so strong, pine needles were embedded into trunks of trees.[11] As the tornado exited the city's east side, the large concrete Battle of Tupelo monument was toppled to the ground and destroyed. Two nearby brick gate posts were broken off at the base and blown over as well.[7] East of town, fields were stripped bare of grass, and small pieces of debris from the city were scattered for miles.[7]

According to records, the Tupelo tornado leveled 48 city blocks[12] and at least 200[2]—perhaps up to 900[12]—homes, killing at least 216 people and injuring at least 700 people.[2] The tornado destroyed the water tower and produced numerous fires in its wake, though overnight rains which left knee-deep water in some streets contained the flames.[13] Though 216 remained the final death toll, 100 persons were still hospitalized at the time it was set.[2] Subsequently, the Mississippi State Geologist estimated a final, unofficial death toll of 233. Some estimates indicate that the actual total may have reached 250 or more dead; few of the devastated Black neighborhoods were thoroughly surveyed and their dead remained uncounted.[8] Because newspapers published only the names of injured whites—a stark corollary of racial discrimination that even separated Black and white relief programs after the tornado[14]—it was difficult to follow up on the fates of injured Blacks. Similar forms of discrimination persisted into the 1940s and 1950s, affecting documentation of tornado deaths even then.[2]

Notably, one of the survivors was the one-year-old Elvis Presley.[8]

Gainesville, Georgia

After producing the Tupelo tornado, the storm system moved through Alabama overnight and reached Gainesville, Georgia, at around 8:30 a.m. This early morning tornado was a double tornado event: one tornado moved in from the Atlanta highway, while the other moved in from the Dawsonville highway.[3] The two merged on Grove Street and destroyed everything in sight throughout the downtown area, causing wreckage to pile 10 feet (3.0 m) high in some places.[5] The worst tornado-caused death toll in a single building in U.S. history was at the Cooper Pants Factory. The multiple-story building was then filled with young workers, mainly female,[15] who had just arrived to work.[5] The structure collapsed and caught fire, killing about 70 people.[5] At the Pacolet Mill, 550 workers moved to the northeast side of the building and survived.[5] Many people sought refuge in Newman's department store; its collapse killed 20 persons. In addition to the complete destruction that occurred throughout downtown Gainesville, residential areas throughout the city were devastated as well, where 750 homes were destroyed, and 254 others were badly damaged.[5]

The final death toll could not be calculated because many of the buildings that were hit collapsed and caught fire.[5] A death toll of 203 persons was posted, though at the time 40 people were yet missing. Letters from Gainesville were blown about 70 miles (110 km) away to Anderson, South Carolina.[3] The Gainesville tornado has been rated as an F4 on the Fujita scale and was the fifth deadliest tornado in U.S. history. It caused nearly $13 million in damage, equivalent to over $200 million in 2011. Gainesville was also the site of another deadly F4 on June 1, 1903, which killed 98 people.[16] No other small town of similar size (population 17,000 in 1936) in the United States has experienced such devastation twice in its history.[15]


  • Blade, Robert (2012). Tupelo Man: The Life and Times of George McLean, a Most Peculiar Newspaper Publisher. University Press of Mississippi. pp. 368. ISBN 978-1617036286.
  • Dundy, Elaine (2004). Elvis and Gladys. University Press of Mississippi. pp. 350. ISBN 978-1578066346.
  • Grazulis, Thomas P. (1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991: A Chronology and Analysis of Events. The Tornado Project of Environmental Films. ISBN 1-879362-00-7 (hardcover)
  • Sandlin, Lee (2013). Storm Kings: The Untold Story of America's First Storm Chasers. Pantheon Books. pp. 304. ISBN 978-0307378521.
  • Steed, Bud (2012). The Haunted Natchez Trace. The History Press. pp. 112. ISBN 978-1609495312.

Further reading

  • Ramage, Martis, Jr. (1997). Tupelo, Mississippi, Tornado of 1936. Northeast Mississippi Historical and Genealogical Society.

External links and references

  • The 1936 Gainesville Tornado: Disaster and Recovery Digital Library of Georgia
  • Fujita Scale

Oral histories of the Tupelo tornado

  • 1 http://www.lib.usm.edu/~spcol/coh/cohmorganab.html
  • 2 http://www.lib.usm.edu/~spcol/coh/cohlonghb.html
  • 3 http://www.lib.usm.edu/~spcol/coh/coharnolds.html
  • 4 http://www.lib.usm.edu/~spcol/coh/cohmccombjb.html