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LOST AND FOUND: THE TORNADO OUTBREAK OF 1957

When I think of April, Easter is usually the first thing that comes to mind. My grandmother lived in a small house near Beautancus (in Duplin County). Every Easter, the family would gather at her house for Sunday lunch. The adults gathered for good food and conversation. The kids gathered for the big Easter egg hunt.

Grandma's yard was not very big, but she had plenty of hiding places for eggs. I'm certainly no expert on gardens, but I do recall Grandma's lovely collection of purple flowers that grew in bunches scattered throughout the yard. I have no idea what those flowers were called, but the colorful buds provided great camouflage for purple Easter eggs. They also provided good cover for bees, so you always had to keep a sharp eye.

As an adult, I can easily remember Easters when temperatures were very cold. But I remember many of my childhood Easters as being very warm. We all know that April can be one of the most varied months of the year from a temperature standpoint, which in turn leads to greater atmospheric instability. There were quite a few years when thunderstorms threatened to cancel our childhood Easter egg adventures in Duplin county.

I was a little surprised to learn that April is the driest month of the year (in terms of climatology) in Wilmington. Forget the notion of "April showers bring May flowers". In coastal southeastern NC, the average April rainfall is well under 3 inches. But don't be fooled by the numbers- April can be a violent month for severe weather. On April 8, 1957, a tornado outbreak developed across seven states in the southeast- including Georgia, Alabama, and the Carolinas. Three particularly strong tornadoes moved through Robeson, Duplin, and Sampson counties. These storms reached F3 and F4 status on the original Fujita Scale, with winds ranging from 158-260 mph. Over 80 people were injured in our state, and at least 4 were killed.

It took 16 hours for the tornado outbreak to cease, with the last storm touching down just before midnight in Norfolk, Virginia. A total of 18 tornadoes were reported in the southeast US, resulting in 200+ injuries. The event is often overlooked by North Carolina historians, overshadowed by the larger outbreak of March 1984. But to those who experienced the 1957 outbreak first-hand, it became a moment never to be forgotten.

By: Jerry Jackson