National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
Fort Payne Tornado Track Map




Peak Wind  158-206 MPH
Path Length

 3.3 miles

Peak Path Width  1200 yards
Starting Point

 34.5, -85.7

Ending Point  34.53364, -85.66631
Starting Time

 5:00 PM

Ending Time  UNKNOWN
Fatalities  0 Injuries  12

 Tornado Description

       Another F-3 tornado with winds ranging 150 to 200 mph, moved through Fort Payne, Alabama and had a nearly four mile path length and around a 1200 yard path width. The tornado destroyed 13 homes as well as numerous trees, electric signs, road signs and the giant Fort Payne Sales Barn.  The damage to the sales barn alone in which there were 10 mules located, was almost to $8,000 in 1952 dollars alone.  The total  dollar amount in destruction in 1952 dollars for the event in the Fort Payne area was estimated between three to four hundred thousand dollars.

      Here is an extended excerpt from the Fort Payne Journal, courtesy of Carlton and Lana Floyd from the De Kalb County Geneaological Society.  “ Swooping over the ridge on the West side of town unheralded, the powerful twister jumped over the newly finished home of Morris Groat, dipped in the front yard of the home of Bob Davis, Jr., at Forest Avenue,  between 15th and 16th Streets and tore down three giant trees; missing the house by 15 feet, it bore down on the home of Jim Johnson directly across from Davis and left only enough of his home for a good sized bonfire.  In the Johnson home at the time were five persons, Mrs. Johnson, her son, 13, Patsy 3, Mrs. Shirey, an 82 year old invalid, and Mrs. Maggie Mince, a nurse who was caring for Mrs. Shirey.  There were all uninjured except Mrs. Mince, who suffered a heavy blow on the back of her head when a falling rafter struck her.  The first thing they heard, according to Mrs. Johnson, was the wall paper cracking, then she said “the whole house seemed to explode.”  Walls were leveled and it was a miracle that all were not killed.”

      As the tornado traveled to Gault Avenue (which is Highway U.S. 11), a large storage house owned locally by Ed Austin was leveled as flat as a pool table,  crushing  an electric refrigerator, a bicycle, other toys and large pieces of furniture, which were stored in the building.  Jumping another 20 feet, the tornado picked up the roof of the Ed Austin home, twisted it around about 10 inches and set it back down again. Roaring on, the tornado tore down large trees, tore off roofs, smashed out windows and then tore into the telephone and power lines along Gault Avenue at the Black Motel, where  considerable damage was done to the home of the owner, Mr. Dennis Black.

      Large sheets of tin were hurled into the power and telephone lines, cutting dozens of the wires.  The north half of the city was without lights and telephones for several hours as power officials labored under large spot lights to remove hot wires and restoring new ones as best as they could.  The huge neon sign at the Lefty Cooper café, which was in the South fringe of the twister, was given a firm, but straight adjustment on its pole; where the sign faced North and South, the twister turned it to read from East and West.  The café, however, was undamaged.  A large cattle truck at the Fort Payne Sales Barn was turned a complete flip and landed upside down without so much as scratching the paint job, while two more less fortunate automobiles were hurled through the air, one a distance of 100 yards and then rolled into a ball of scrap.

      Bill Prestwood, the local lumber dealer, related how he looked out his window at his home and saw the funnel coming and at one time he said “I saw a very large roof from a house sailing through the air at a height of three or four hundred feet.   Another man said when he saw it coming, he stretched out on the ground, grabbing ahold of a tough bush and just as he hit the ground, he said “these two automobiles sailed through the air over my head.”
      One of the freak incidents performed was the “metal field”, a large tract of land about a quarter of a mile square behind the Sales Barn that looked as though hundreds of sheets of galvanized roofing were carried out and fairly evenly spaced to dot the entire field.  Sheets of this metal were found over a mile away and many sheets lodged in trees all over the mountainside.   The Dave Payton home, near the top of the Beason Gap on Lookout Mountain, was estimated to have damage at between five and six thousand dollars."

Tornado Damage Photos

Photo Courtesy of Maitland E. Davidson, Fort Payne Journal via Carlton and Lana Floyd, De Kalb County, Alabama, Geneaological Society 
Courtesy of Maitland E. Division, Fort Payne Journal via Carlton and Lana Floyd, De Kalb County, Alabama, Geneaological Society