John Brasher, Centreville Press, May 30, 1973. Photo printed from WSR-57 Centreville automatic camera filmstrip,

Centreville Radar was equipped with an automatic camera that captured the radar display at short intervals. Shown here is a print made directly from the NOAA filmstrip showing the tornado southwest of and heading toward the station. A few days after the storm, at NOAA’s request, I printed photos from each frame of the filmstrip in the darkroom of the Centreville Press. This is one of those photos. The red notations on this photo are added for clarity, courtesy of Ed Landry, a former radar operator at Centreville.

Illuminated only by a desk lamp and the green glow of the radar screen, Dale Black operates the controls at Centreville Radar. One end of the radar room was filled with the WSR-57 console shown here, the opposite end with a large map of Alabama. This photo was taken as Dale was investigating the storm that had developed to our southwest, near Demopolis. He then ploted the storm’s projected path on the map and stated that if “holds together It will pass right over us”. It did hold together.

Notations on storms were made on the radar screen with a grease pen.

Bob Coe was at the teletype sending information to West Oxmoor regarding another storm when the tornado struck us at Centreville Radar. Minutes after this photo was taken, we felt an abrupt and dramatic drop in atmospheric pressure, and within seconds,the fury of the storm as the tornado struck. Dale Black used a phone in this room, which somehow remained operational for a short time, to place a call to the Birmingham Weather Office telling them “We’ve been hit.”

The radar antenna was blown from the tower, landing about 20 feet from the room Dale Black and I had jumped into. The dome that covered the antenna had vanished.

This is the hallway inside the station. Dale, Bob, and I were standing here when the roof was torn away. The door directly ahead led to the reference and conference room. On the left was the door to the teletype room. On the right was the radar room. Behind and on the right was the office where we took refuge.

Over half of the weather station’s roof was peeled back and mangled.

This was the south-east corner of the weather station as seen minutes after the storm’s passing.

Re-use please credit

Photos below courtesy of:

J.B. Elliott

weather office interior roof

Roof of the weather office as seen from the radar tower

weather office interior

Inside east end of the weather office

10 Responses to “Centreville Radar – “We’ve Been Hit””

  1. […] OLD CENTREVILLE RADAR SITE: Soon, look on the left and you will pass an historic Alabama weather location; the site of the old WSR-57 Centreville radar that scanned the Alabama sky for years before the NEXRAD system was installed at the Shelby County Airport. This installation was destroyed by the same tornado that ripped through downtown Brent May 27, 1973. […]

  2. […] One church was demolished. My most favorite weatherman in the whole world, James Spann has a great link on his blog of the radar of the Brent tornado. The hook signature of a tornado is there as big as […]

  3. Randy Willis said

    I remember at 17 year old riding through Brent the day after this tornado. Remember seeing police cars upside down and buildings leveled. Will never forget seeing a bath tub stuck in a stripped tree trunk. Living in Alabaster at the time my parents found a small Bible New Testament cover with the faded hand written ink “Brent”… wish we still had it. At that time neighbors reported leaves falling from the clouds.
    Thanks for this site / Randy

  4. I’m doing some research with a group on climate anomalies across the central part of the U.S. and 5/27/1973 was highlighted as an anomalous weather day. Thank you for preserving the photos of the Brent Tornado event, obviously the reason that 5/27/73 made the top-10.


    Suzanne Fortin
    NWS Kansas City/Pleasant Hill

  5. Mrs. R. J. Coe said

    Thoroughly enjoyed this. My husband was Bob Coe, seen in several of these pictures. Thanks to the NWS, they put phone lines underground when they built the radar site, so my husband was able to call me and I had time to get our 4 children and myself into a safe area. Of course, our house was destroyed – along with most of Brent and its neighbor Centreville Our family seemed to bring out the worst weather every where my husband was stationed, and that bad luck followed us even after he retired. On 29 Aug. 2005, we rode out Hurricane Katrina in our retirement home in Louisiana. Survived that one, too!

    Mrs. R. J. Coe

  6. Jonathan Walker said


  7. Jamie Calvin said

    My Grandparents lost everything in that tornado!!! They were at Ridgeville Nazerine Church!!! Preacher Jerry Reach drove them home to find their house destoyed!!! It was Awful!!!

  8. Hughey Johnson said

    My family (Sue,my wife and daughters, Brenda and Beverly and myself) had arrived at home in Autauga County, AL in approximately one hour after leaving Brent. I looked out the back door which faced west. I told my family there was bad weather where we had come from. I turned the T.V. on and these were the first words that came from the T.V. Brent, Alabama has just been blown off the map by a tornado.

    Hughey Johnson

  9. Dale Eubanks said

    I transferred to the Brent-Centreville radar site in the summer of 1970 when it was being installed. We built a house on 40 acres just behind the radar through the woods down a steep hill. I transferred to Abilene, Texas in the summer of 1972, and we were watching the evening news on May 27, 1973, and my wife, Puggy, said; “that’s my Brent Baptist Church mostly destroyed”. I agree, Dale Black should have received the Department of Commerce, Gold Medal, and I don’t know if he did or not. I understood that the house we built only lost a few shingles off the roof. It skipped right over it, since it was in a valley.

  10. John B. said

    From JB Elliott,
    Alabama WX Weather Blog:

    Remember it like yesterday. I was working 4 pm to midnight at the NWS, 11 West Oxmoor Road and spent the next day in Brent and Greensoboro photographing and surveying. Oddly enough, James Spann was in Brent that day also. I had never heard of him but if luck had been with us, we could have become friends a lot earlier than we did later when James joined Channel 13 in Birmingham. There were one or two places in Brent that I believe could have been classed as F5. One of those was across the street from Brent Baptist Church.

    I do not have a Brent story posted on the 33/40 blog. However, John Brasher maintains an excellent web site on the Brent storm. Last year, he asked me to write a story for the site. It can be found on this link:

    In the black panel menu at the top of the site, click on “At 11 West Oxmoor Road”

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