This outbreak was one of three particularly busy stretches during the month — a month that also proved the deadliest for tornadoes since May 2013 and has nudged 2020 to the deadliest year since 2011, with 73 fatalities so far. Forty of those deaths occurred in April.
Illustrating their vulnerability to these events, more than twice as many of this year’s deaths occurred in mobile or manufactured homes when compared to site-built residences.
Perhaps most noteworthy were the four violent EF4 tornadoes that occurred during the month — including three within a 20-mile radius in Mississippi in just one week. The fourth struck Hampton County, S.C., marking the Low County’s first EF4 tornado on record.
April 2020 also featured the third-widest tornado on record in the United States, which carved up parts of south central with a maximum width of 2.25 miles. The hyperactive month even bore witness to two tornadic circulations merging over South Carolina.
Easter Sunday outbreak
Twin wedge tornadoes developed in Mississippi, where the small communities of Bassfield, Soso, Laurel and Moss were largely leveled as a 2.25-mile-wide EF4 tornado with 190 mph winds churned through.
Barely a half-hour later, a second storm dropped a mile-wide EF3 to the north. The pair of storms prompted rare “tornado emergencies,” two out of five such dire alerts issued during the outbreak.
Those storms killed 12, the first tornado fatalities since the long-track nocturnal tornadoes that impacted Nashville and surrounding areas in Middle Tennessee on March 2-3.
Another deadly tornado occurred in Murray County in northwestern Georgia late on Easter evening. Seven died in that twister, which was rated an EF2. A tornado warning was not issued until several minutes after the tornado touched down.
A tornado also narrowly missed Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, the busiest airport in the world.
Overnight, storms merged into an impressive line that swept northeast, spawning tornadoes that caused serious damage and killed several just east of Chattanooga, Tenn. Meanwhile, four deadly tornadoes over South Carolina claimed nine lives, ranking as the deadliest outbreak in the Palmetto State since March 1984.
A tornado in Hampton County, S.C., was rated an EF4, the state’s first since November 1995. It was estimated to have produce winds up to 175 mph.
Further northwest, three or four tornadoes were on the ground simultaneously near Barnwell County, S.C.; two of the tornadic circulations merged in what was an exceptional event.
All told, at least 150 tornadoes touched down during the Easter outbreak, setting a milestone for the third-worst “convective day” for tornadoes on record. (A convective day is a period bounded by when rounds of thunderstorms develop.) Retaining the top spot is the infamous April 2011 Super Outbreak.
During this outbreak, the National Weather Service issued its greatest number of tornado warnings in 24 hours since 2012.
The South would have only a few days to pick up the pieces left behind by the Easter outbreak before another exceptional storm system arrived the following Sunday.
April 19-20 outbreak
A violent tornado emerged from roiling storm clouds in south-central Mississippi on April 19, killing one as the vortex terrorized Hurricane Creek, Sandy Hook and Pine Burr, Miss. That tornado, the fifth EF4 of 2020, touched down less than 30 miles south of where two other deadly EF4s occurred during the Easter outbreak.
A couple additional tornadoes spun up in Alabama and Georgia before the storm system gave rise to a more significant spattering of twisters in Florida the next day.
April 22-23 outbreak
Only a couple of days later, yet another significant outbreak occurred, as four rotating supercell thunderstorms marched across Interstate 35 in south-central Oklahoma. Two people were killed in Madill as a highly photogenic, dusty twister danced beneath an eerily sunlit sky.
Farther to the south, an even more potent thunderstorm developed. That rotating supercell thunderstorm would then travel across three states over the course of six-plus hours. It dropped an EF3 tornado on Onalaksa, Tex., killing three before producing additional tornadoes in Louisiana and Mississippi. Two more tornado emergencies were issued for this storm — one for Jasper, Tex., and one for Fort Polk, La.
All told, that outbreak resulted in more than 40 tornadoes.
More activity to come
April as a whole was the deadliest month for tornadoes in the United States since May 2013, when hellacious tornadoes razed neighborhoods in Moore, Okla., and killed storm chasers in El Reno, Okla., during the span of a furious two-week period. While a brief lull in the vicious swarms of storms is anticipated for the next week or two, a return to average or above-average conditions is possible during the latter half of May.
For parts of the South, the month bears shades of April 2011, when perhaps the most prolific tornado outbreak on record yielded dozens of strong to violent tornadoes, including several EF5s and a number of EF4s. That system prompted renewed conversations about tornado risk in highly vulnerable areas outside of traditional “Tornado Alley.”