Super tornadoes rare, but possible, in SC

jholleman@thestate.comMay 21, 2013 

  • Worst S.C. tornadoes According to the state climate office, the worst tornadoes in S.C. history include:

    April 30, 1924: Multiple twisters hit the state, including an F3-rated tornado that wreaked havoc from Anderson to York counties, and an F4-rated tornado that left destruction from Aiken to Florence counties. The more southern of the storms became known as the “Horrell Hill Tornado” because it destroyed a small elementary school in Horrell Hill, killing four children. Statewide, 77 died, 778 were injured and 465 homes were destroyed.

    March 28, 1984: The second highest loss of life in state history occurred when 11 tornadoes touched down along a band that extended from Anderson County through Marlboro County. The National Weather Service estimated five of those twisters were at F4 strength in Kershaw, Lancaster, Chesterfield and Marlboro counties. The tornadoes caused 15 deaths, 448 injuries and damages of more than $100 million. There also were several other storm-related fatalities.

    Aug. 16, 1994: Twenty-three twisters were identified, including two F3 tornadoes in Lexington and other F3s in Oconee, Union and Spartanburg counties. Forty-five people were injured and hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed, but no deaths were attributed directly to the storms.

    March 15, 2008: An EF3 tornado touched down near Silverstreet in Newberry County and continued into northern Richland County. Homes in Prosperity were hit particularly hard, and two people died.

    April 15, 2007: Among the seven twisters identified in the state that day was an EF3 that killed one and injured five in Sumter County, and damaged 78 homes.

— Tornadoes with the ferocity of the one that hit Moore, Okla., on Monday are rare in South Carolina, but they have struck here before.

The Moore twister was an EF5 tornado with winds of more than 200 mph. The worst S.C. storm on record was an F4, using an earlier rating scale. However, that April 30, 1924 storm had some similarities to the Moore disaster.

Multiple twisters hit South Carolina on April 30, 1924, including an F3-rated tornado that wreaked havoc from Anderson County to York County, and an F4-rated tornado that left destruction from Aiken County to Florence County. The more southern of those storms became known as the “Horrell Hill Tornado” because it destroyed a small elementary school in that eastern Richland County community.

Four children in the school were among the 77 South Carolinians who lost their lives in the two April 30, 1924, tornadoes. Another 778 people were injured and 465 homes destroyed, according to the S.C. State Climatology Office.

The next day, every one of the 12 stories on the front page of The State dealt with some aspect of the tornado outbreak, including a plea for donations to help those who lost their homes. In photos, Horrell Hill School looks like nothing more than a pile of sticks. (See May 1, 1924 front page at the bottom of this story.)

That day is far and away the most destructive for tornadoes in South Carolina.

Since 1990, the state has been hit by no F4 or EF4 tornadoes and only 14 F3 or EF3 tornadoes, according to a database on the S.C. Office of Climatology web site. The Fujita scale measuring tornado strength was modified slightly in 2007, thus the change from Fujita, or F3, to Enhanced Fujita measurement, or EF3s.

The meteorological conditions in the Midwest are much more conducive to the formation of major tornadoes than the weather in South Carolina.

The Midwest often has moist warm air masses on the ground and cold air masses aloft, said University of South Carolina geography professor Greg Carbone. The Midwest also can have dry air moving north from Mexico that serves as a cap, suppressing tornado formation until conditions are ripe for the most severe of tornadoes.

Those conditions are rare in South Carolina, in part because of the closeness of the Atlantic Ocean. The state is more likely to get small tornadoes spun off by hurricanes or tropical storms.

Worst S.C. tornadoes

According to the state climate office, the worst tornadoes in S.C. history include:

April 30, 1924: Multiple twisters hit the state, including an F3-rated tornado that wreaked havoc from Anderson to York counties, and an F4-rated tornado that left destruction from Aiken to Florence counties. The more southern of the storms became known as the “Horrell Hill Tornado” because it destroyed a small elementary school in Horrell Hill, killing four children. Statewide, 77 died, 778 were injured and 465 homes were destroyed.

March 28, 1984: The second highest loss of life in state history occurred when 11 tornadoes touched down along a band that extended from Anderson County through Marlboro County. The National Weather Service estimated five of those twisters were at F4 strength in Kershaw, Lancaster, Chesterfield and Marlboro counties. The tornadoes caused 15 deaths, 448 injuries and damages of more than $100 million. There also were several other storm-related fatalities.

Aug. 16, 1994: Twenty-three twisters were identified, including two F3 tornadoes in Lexington and other F3s in Oconee, Union and Spartanburg counties. Forty-five people were injured and hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed, but no deaths were attributed directly to the storms.

March 15, 2008: An EF3 tornado touched down near Silverstreet in Newberry County and continued into northern Richland County. Homes in Prosperity were hit particularly hard, and two people died.

April 15, 2007: Among the seven twisters identified in the state that day was an EF3 that killed one and injured five in Sumter County, and damaged 78 homes.


The State, May 1, 1924


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