This news account from the Jacksonville Republican (http://tinyurl.com/Benton-Storm) relates the devastation caused by a storm that appeared to be nine miles in width, tracking southwest to northeast through Calhoun County on March 12, 1855. This storm would have hit near where my characters, the Sheltons and Gordons, lived.
Calhoun (formerly Benton) County, Alabama, has been high-risk for tornadoes as far back as anyone can remember. Jacksonville has averaged two per year since 1950, amounting to 103 tornadoes. Piedmont (formerly known as Cross Plains) has been hit by 105 tornadoes since 1950. The F4 that struck the town of Piedmont in 2010 is thought to be the largest tornado in recent memory.
On March 27, 1994, a tornado stuck Goshen United Methodist Church in neighboring Cherokee County, close to Piedmont, during a Palm Sunday service. Without warning, the roof collapsed, killing twenty people inside and injuring around ninety. It also destroyed two other churches nearby, but fortunately no one was killed. The tragedy drew national attention.
The tornado outbreak April 25-28, 2011, put Alabama in a state of emergency with a death toll of 252. The storm flattened 50,000 trees at Silver Lakes Golf Course in Gadsden, northwest of Jacksonville, and produced high-end EF3 damage, destroying mobile homes, a house and numerous trees north of Piedmont. The death toll for Calhoun and St. Clair counties combined was twenty-two.
The super outbreak in 2011 was the largest, costliest and one of the deadliest tornado outbreaks ever recorded, affecting Alabama and Mississippi the most severely of the southern, midwestern and northeastern states. This outbreak resulted in 238 tornado-related deaths in Alabama. The storm’s 317 total fatalities on April 27 were the most in a single day since the Tri-State outbreak on March 18, 1925, when at least 747 people lost their lives.
Homefacts.com. Piedmont, Alabama, and Jacksonville, Alabama. n.d. Web. Accessed 22 June 2016.