Shortly after 4:30 pm on Wednesday, November 15, 1989, a large tornado dropped from a
thunderstorm near the Redstone Arsenal. Ten minutes later, Madison County, AL residents were
dealing with the worst weather disaster to ever hit the area
The tornado began its path of destruction west of the city, near the steam plant on Triana
Boulevard. It reached full fury with winds estimated at over 250 mph, as it slammed into the city a
few minutes later. The path of the tornado could not have been worse. It cut a swath of almost
total destruction along Airport Road, from Memorial Parkway east.
It then roared into the Jones Valley and in a few seconds, Jones Valley Elementary School was
flattened. Most students were already gone but, there were about 3 dozen students in an after
school care program. All survived. One person was killed in her car in front of the building.
Further to the east more homes were damaged or destroyed.
The tornado finally ran out of energy after damaging some buildings in the community of
Brownsboro, in eastern Madison County. The storm path was over 15 miles long. In many areas
it looked like a bomb had been dropped. Cars were piled on top of other cars and on top of
buildings and in trees. School supplies from the Jones Valley School were found as far away as
At one point the damage path shows the tornado almost a half mile wide. Meteorologists classify
tornadoes according to the Fujita Scale. The scale runs from zero to
5. The Huntsville tornado was ranked as a 4. A strong 4. Tornadoes this strong are actually quite
rare, but that is little comfort to the people who lost friends and family on that terrible afternoon.
In a matter of seconds, 22 people were killed and almost 500 were injured. Over 250 homes were
destroyed and over one hundred more suffered major damage. Dozens of businesses and churches
were destroyed or heavily damaged. Two schools were also totally destroyed. Massive damage
was done to power and phone lines. It would be years before the area would begin to look normal
The residents of Madison County have experienced an event that is actually rather rare, a violent
tornado. Yes, we have many tornadoes each year in Alabama, and many do considerable damage.
The type of tornado that struck the city of Huntsville on that balmy afternoon in November
happens only rarely, but when it does, it changes lives forever in just a matter of
This area, of Alabama, tends to get more than its' fair share of these strong tornadoes. Location
and geography play a role in that. Since the devastating tornado, Doppler radar has become
widely used by the National Weather Service across the country. The warning of the Huntsville
tornado was not put out until the damage had begun.