US Killer Tornadoes of 1998

February 22-23, 1998
During the first killer tornadoes of the year, three supercells dropped killer tornadoes in Florida around midnight on February 22-23, striking while people slept. The final total seems to be forty-two deaths and about 260 injured. President Clinton toured the damage and declared 14 counties eligible for Federal disaster relief. This was Florida's deadliest outbreak to date. Ironically, Florida governor Lawton Chiles had named the week "Hazardous Weather Awareness Week". they were:

February 22, 1998 9:55 PM CST F2
The tornado touched down near I-95 and I-4 in South Daytona, Volusia County, blowing 4 tractor-trailers off the highway. It damaged many mobile homes in the Colonial Colony South trailer park. A man was killed when his trailer caved in on him. A family whose roof was damaged found one of their roof trusses a few days later, in the trailer park area, about a mile away from their home.

You can read more about it and see damage photos at the Daytona Beach News-Journal site here.

Note: It is estimated that 16% of Florida's housing consist of mobile homes, and that there are 800,000 mobile homes or trailers in the state.
Mobile homes are "very vulnerable to any tornado," said Paul Hebert, head of the National Weather Service forecast office in Miami. "They destroy them. They lift them up and throw them through the air."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has two words of advice for mobile home dwellers facing a tornado: Get out. You're safer in a ditch with your hands over your head than in a mobile home.
The weather service urges evacuations in case of 75 mph winds. The weakest tornadoes can have top winds of 72 mph.

Federal law, passed after Hurricane Andrew struck south Florida in 1992, requires that mobile homes now must be constructed with 2" X 6" lumber, have "tie-downs" and be able to withstand winds of 110 miles per hour on the coast and 100 mph inland. However, 90% of those 800,000 Florida mobile homes were built before that law was enacted. If they were built after 1976, the specs call for them to withstand 90 mph winds. If they were built before 1976, there were no rules at all!

Some mobile home parks have shelters for residents in case of hurricane or tornado, but many don't. At least one state has attempted to pass legislation that requires mobile home parks to have a communal shelter available to residents, but the legislation has been blocked by those within the mobile home industry there.

February 22, 1998 10:37 PM CST F3
West of Orlando, Florida, homes in a retirement housing community in Winter Garden were damaged or destroyed by as many as three tornadoes, killing three people.

February 23, 1998 12:10 AM F3
Many structures were destroyed in the Altamonte Springs to Sanford area of Florida, much of it at the Sanford airport. Thirteen people were killed. In one residence, a couple, their daughter and her fiance were all killed. The young womans body was found by divers when they searched the creek behind the home. Her 5-year-old daughter survived. One man who was wearing a life-jacket when he fell asleep in an RV(a practice he followed on stormy nights)at Rod's Fish Camp was blown into the raging St. Johns River when when the vehicle was overturned. He suffered several broken ribs and other injuries, but remained afloat in Lake Harney, clinging to an overturned boat, until rescuers found him about a mile from the RV site. Another man was also blown into the river and was reported missing for several days until his body was found. Wreckage from the half dozen or so trailers was washed as far away as 6 miles up the river. All but one death occurred in mobile homes or RVs.

February 23, 1998 12:50 AM F3
Numerous buildings, mobile homes and an RV park were destroyed from Campbell City to Boggy Creek Road in Kissimmee, Florida(Osceola County). Twenty-five people were killed, all but one of which were in mobile homes, modular homes, trailers or campers. Dogs were used to search the pine woods near the Ponderosa Park campground in the hopes of finding survivors still in the underbrush. An sleeping 18-month-old boy was flung, mattress and all, from his great-grandmothers home into the branches of a fallen oak tree in the yard. He was found a half hour after the tornado struck, tucked safely into the mattress, five feet above the ground, covered by sheetrock, boards, and branches which had blown onto it. The child survived with only a few scratches. The house he was in had been destroyed. A 70-year-old Episcopal priest was asleep in a chair when it was hurled 60 yards across the street. His modular home was destroyed and he was fatally injured. Seven other people in that same residential area were killed. About two miles away, every one of the 163 homes in the Flamingo Lakes subdivision was damaged to some degree. About half of these homes, valued at between $100,000 and $200,000 were "destroyed", but there were no deaths there

March 20, 1998 5:20 AM CST F3
An unexpected morning tornado cut a 10-mile-long, half-mide-wide path, killing 12 people and injuring 103 more in the Gainesville area of Hall County, Georgia. White County was suffered the brunt of the storm. Seven of the deaths occurred in the 45 mobile homes that were destroyed or damaged. About a third of the Lanier Elementary School was destroyed and North Hall High School was partly unroofed. The children had not yet arrived for school. An hour or so later, there would have been hundreds of students in the buildings. One of the deaths occurred directly next to the elementary school, as a man delivering food there was killed when his truck was lifted and dropped onto the school caretakers trailer home. A 76-year-old man, his daughter and a grandson were killed in a trailer on the North Hall High School campus. Of the dead, 4 were children. Forty-one homes were "100%" destroyed, and 132 houses were damaged. Some of the damaged homes cannot be lived in. All deaths except the aforementioned vehicular death occurred in mobile homes. Two of the deaths in a mobile home occurred when the home was blown into a pond
Eight commercial chicken houses were also demolished, killing or maiming as many as 100,000 chickens and setting others free to roam around. Thirty-five thousand were on two farms. Forty 40 head of cattle were killed, 20 on one farm alone.
Emergency management officials estimate more than $13.5 million property damage in Hall County and $1.7 million in White County.

This is not the first time that Gainesville, Georgia has been struck--they experienced a devastating tornado on April 6, 1936, when 203 people were killed and 1600 were injured. Like the tornado this year, the tornado struck in the morning, laying waste to the city. Debris filled the streets up to 10 feet deep, and the fires that followed made it impossible to determine who died where. The largest death toll in a single building for any US tornado occurred at the Cooper Pants Factory, which collapsed and killed 70 people.

Tornadoes that occur early in the year are often the most costly in terms of lives lost, for the reasons outlined on this page in our tornado safety section.

Have you ever wondered how NWS meteorologists know that a storm has tornadic potential? If so, check our our Those Terrifying Twirling Twisters! page.

March 20, 1998 2:25PM CST F3
At about 3:23 PM, a tornado moved through the Madison-Mayodan area of Rockingham County, North Carolina. It tore the roof off the Unifi textile factory that had about 100 people inside, and destroyed the United Methodist church. Five minutes later, what was described as "a huge black cloud with a funnel hanging down" devastated the small town of Stoneville, northeast of Mayondan. It killed an 80-year-old man in his rural home and a 24-year-old teacher when it tossed her car into a building. A passenger, her mother, was badly injured. About 85% of the buildings in this town of about 1500 people were damaged to some degree. Several dozen people were injured. It then moved steadily northeast into Virginia until 4:20 PM, when it weakened and dissipated.

March 29, 1998 4:35 PM CST F4
In Comfrey, a small town of about 550, the fire station, a store, a cafe, and the church were demolished. An 85-year-old man was fatally injured, succumbing to his injuries the following day.

March 29, 1998 5:50 PM CST F3
Near St. Peter, Minnesota, a 6-year-old boy was killed when the van he was in was thrown off the road and he was tossed 150 yards. In St. Peter, bricks littered the streets, storefronts were smashed, and the remains of one store was spread throughout a 6 block area. Debris from there was dropped onto St. Paul, 55 miles away. Many buildings at Gustavus Adolphus College were damaged. At a Le Center trailer park, the manager, Bob Bock, ran from trailer to trailer, alerting the residents, and directing them to the trailer park's concrete storm shelter. About half the trailers were destroyed, but none of the residents were seriously injured. At least 36 other people were injured during a rash of 7 tornadoes that swept through southern Minnesota. The towns of St. Peter, Le Center, and Comfrey were hardest hit.

April 1, 1998 6:00 PM CST F3
A night-time tornado touched down briefly at Coatesville, in northern Hanover County, Virginia. At about 7:00 PM, the owner had left briefly to warn his father-in-law about the storm, and in those few minutes, the house was demolished. His 39-year-old wife and their 13-week-old son were killed. The two-story frame home had been built only two years before. Several other homes were damaged.

April 8, 1998 3:59 AM CST F?
The Black Creek community's Wilson Estates, near Pembroke, Georgia, and about 30 miles west of Savannah, was virtually wiped out. Nine homes were destroyed, 16 people were injured, and a man was killed.

April 8, 1998 4:35 AM CST F?
Three people were killed about 8 miles north of Ludowici, GA--a 13-year-old girl, her uncle, and a woman who lived in the home across the street.

April 8, 1998 6:42 PM CST F5
This devastating tornado cut a 30.6 mile long path through the Birmingham, Alabama area towns of Oak Grove, Rock Creek, Concord, Pleasant Grove, Sylvan Springs, Maytown, Edgewater, McDonald Chapel and Pratt City. Over 1000 homes were destroyed, and another 400+ had damage to 50% or more of their structure. Several hundred more homes, apartments, and businesses were damaged or destroyed. The final death total added up to 32 people, most of which were killed by flying debris. There were 221 people injured. One young boy died 9 days later of head injuries after being blown 300 feet from the home site. His father is now paralyzed from the waist down, and his mother suffered broken ribs, a broken leg, and a punctured lung. Miraculously, two younger siblings survived with only minor injuries. Another mother and her two children huddled in their basement, but were killed anyway when hundreds of pounds of debris was blown onto them.
The Oak Grove Elementary School, near the start of the path, was destroyed. The Oak Grove High School was heavily damaged. The fire station was also destroyed.
At the Open Door Church, members did not have time to get home, and took cover in a hall on the church's lower level. The roof was ripped off, and the upper floor collapsed. Members held onto one another as they were pelted with sheet metal, branches and other things that were blown in from the outside. A dozen people were injured there. Several cars parked next to the church were blown into 50 foot ravine nearby. The Rock Creek Church of God was turned into a trauma center.
One of the area residents sent us damage photographs that you can see here, and Matt Biddle, who surveyed the damage, supplied us with the photographs that can be seen here.
The National Weather Service Office in Alabaster, just south of Birmingham, did a superb job of warning people. As many as 24 individual TVSs(tornadic vortex signature on radar) were identified. Damage surveys done afterward describe the debris as "a river", in which entire masses of splintered houses, trees, cars, human beings, broken concrete blocks, and personal belongings flowed together in one jumbled mess. One surveyor, upon seeing the incredible damage, wondered aloud why there were only 32 deaths, and not 200. You will also find an extensive page of articles from the Birmingham Times newspaper here.
As with Gainesville, Georgia, this area of Alabama is not a stranger to tornadoes. You can read about several more right here.

April 8, 1998 7:56 PM CST F2
A woman was killed and her husband fatally injured in the Wattsville area of Coal City, north of Pell City in St. Clair County, Alabama. A tornado picked their mobile home up "like a toy" and blew it about 100 feet across the road into another residence. It damaged a funeral home and about 25 homes. The Bethel Baptist Church in Odenville was destroyed mere minutes after its members left an Easter pageant rehersal that had been dismissed early because of the storm. Their new sanctuary and family life center, under construction but nearing completion, were also destroyed.

April 8, 1998 10:35 PM CST F2
A man was killed in Dunwoody, Georgia, when a tree crushed his home.

April 9, 1998 4:45 AM CST F?
A 51-year-old soldier was killed in the 24th Corps Support Group Building in Fort Stewart, Georgia. Several other soldiers were injured, and Fort Stewart sustained millions of dollars in damage. The tornado struck two motor pools, and "tossed about" tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

April 16, 1998 2:05 AM CST F4
Two young children were killed in Manila, Arkansas, in a mobile home that was lifted and thrown into a cotton field. Twenty one other people were injured, including the children's parents. The tornado struck the Costner Addition, a small subdivision on the southwest side of town. The path was about a half mile long. Sirens were sounded, but the noise from rain, wind and thunder masked the sound. About a hundred homes were destroyed or damaged.
Doppler radar of the storm

April 16, 1998 3:05 AM CST F3
A tornado from the same system as the Manila, Arkansas tornado also killed a man and a woman in Roellen, Tennessee, about 50 miles east of Manila. Their bodies were found about 200 feet from their trailer home, which was torn to pieces.
Doppler radar of the storm

April 16, 1998 3:45 PM CST F3
In Glasgow, Kentucky, a 67-year-old man in a mobile home was killed and a 47-year-old man was killed when a barn wall fell on him. In Metcalfe County, Kentucky, a 78-year-old man died when his house collapsed.
Doppler radar of the storm

April 16, 1998 4:17 PM F3
There were 16 tornadoes in this outbreak in central Tennessee. At least one wide but weak tornado passed directly through the heart of Nashville(hopefully putting to rest that myth). It caused a great deal of damage all along the path, and injured at least 100 people. Among the usual damage to businesses and homes, it also damaged the Hermitage(the historic and beautiful home of Andrew Jackson), the new sports stadium that was under construction, and Centennial Park, where it uprooted most of the 100-150 year-old-trees. A Vanderbilt University student on an ROTC run saw the storm coming and was running for cover when the large limb of a tree fell and pinned him underneath. He died May 5th due to complications caused by the injury.
Doppler radar of the storm

April 16, 1998 4:45 PM CST F4
This intense tornado killed three people in Wayne County, near the Alabama state line, and several miles southwest of Waynesboro. At least one of the dead was in a mobile home.
Doppler radar of the storm

April 16, 1998 9:35 PM CST F1
A 35-year-old woman was killed when a brand new log home in Cleveland, Tennessee was shifted 20-25 feet off its foundation and collapsed. She and her husband were on the stairway to the basement when the storm struck. It took several hours to extricate her body from the rubble.
Doppler radar of the storm

May 7, 1998 6:25 PM CST F?
A woman was crushed under her double-wide mobile home in Edgefield, South Carolina. The tornado cut a 2 mile path in a rural area, then destroyed a cluster of a half dozen homes in the area where the woman was killed. Her husband, in critical condition, was pulled from under a flattened pickup truck nearby. A 126-year-old church in the same county, the Old Piney Grove Baptist Church, was destroyed.
Doppler radar of the storm

May 10, 1998 3:10 PM CST F?
A tornado on Mother's Day fatally injured a ninety-year-old woman when it rolled her mobile home 40 feet in the Sangaree area near Summerville, South Carolina. Seven other people were injured in its two mile track, several which were in vehicles. Over 200 homes suffered damage of some degree. Several tornadoes were involved in the damage.
Doppler radar of the storm

May 15, 1998 3:40 PM CST F1
Powerful storms swept through south and central Minnesota that afternoon, causing wind and lightning deaths, injuries, and damage. A 78-year-old man setting up at a flea market in Albany, Stearns County, was killed instantly when a camper he was in was blown over. His wife was seriously injured. Trapped inside the camper, she was finally freed when a wrecker uprighted the camper. About 10 of the campers at the flea market were destroyed, and several other people were severely hurt.
Doppler radar of the storm

May 30, 1998 8:44 PM CST F4
All but about a dozen homes in Spencer, South Dakota, were destroyed in the quarter-mile-wide "wedge" tornado that ground its way through the small farming community of 317 people. It killed 6 people and injured as many as 150 to some degree. Most of the deaths took place in an area of assisted-living apartments for the elderly. Dogs were used to search for victims that might have been buried in the rubble. The tornado was one of several in the area that evening. The storm system continued on into Minnesota and Wisconsin, causing power outages to 900,000 people. Roger Edwards of the Storm Prediction Center has prepared a very comprehensive page about this tornado.
Doppler radar of the storm

May 31, 1998 4:20 PM CST F3
A tornado that dropped in the Mechanicville/Stillwater area of New York, in Saratoga County, caused a fatal heart attack in one person, and injured 68 people. Twenty eight of those injured were sent to the hospital, 40 more were treated on scene. You can read more about it in the Albany Times Union.
Doppler radar of the storm

June 2, 1998 10:00 PM CST F3
The town of Lake Carey, in Wyoming County, Pennsylvania suffered "total devastation" at the hands of one of the many tornadoes that occurred in Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, and West Virginia. Many homes were destroyed. Two people were killed in a mobile home, and 9 more were injured. Many mobile homes were demolished.
Doppler radar of the storm

Sept 3, 1998 6:38 AM CSTF?
Hurricane Earl spawned tornadoes in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. One of them struck a mobile home park on St. Helena Island, south of Charleston, killing one person and injuring several others.

Sept 17, 1998 9:15 AM
A small tornado ripped apart a mobile home in Silver City, about 15 miles WSE of Corsicana, Texas. The home was tossed and scattered over 100 yeards. A man was killed and his wife and sons were badly injured.

Sept 18, 1998
An early morning tornado touched down at Brookshire, Waller County, Texas, about 35 miles west of Houston. One man was killed as his mobile home was blown apart.

Tornado Elsewhere in the World

March 24, 1998
One or possibly two tornadoes accompanied by torrential rains struck the eastern states of West Bengal and Orissa in India on Tuesday, March 24th, 1998. At last count, the death total may have been as high as 200 dead(depending on what paper you read), 175 from the Midnapore district of West Bengal alone. The tornadoes struck without warning, destroying or damaging 15000 dwellings and making it more than 10,000 people homeless. Most of the deaths occurred in collapsed homes, although with many as 35 children were killed in a school house that was destroyed in the Goborghata village in Orissa. Downed poles completely disrupted telecommunications and the power supply, further adding to the disaster relief problem. Three thousand people were treated for their injuries.

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