Beginning just a few miles north of downtown Birmingham near Tarrant, the tornado proceed north through northern Jefferson County producing F5 damage in Smithfield, northeast of Ensley. The tornado, which was at times 3⁄4 miles (1.2 km) wide, was blamed for 22 deaths and more than 125 injuries while damage was estimated at $25 million dollars. Hundreds of homes were completely destroyed while Daniel Payne College suffered extensive damage forcing it to permanently close due to the extent of the destruction. Dr. Ted Fujita followed the tornado and supercell from an airplane and while surveying damage he rated the Smithfield tornado an F5.
In addition to this tornado, several other tornadoes were reported from the same system in the Midwest, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina. One tornado in Floyd County, Georgia killed one person while another fatality was reported east of Birmingham in St. Clair County. The severe weather that day also contributed to the crash of Southern Airways Flight 242, which crashed near New Hope, Georgia, killing 70 people.
The F5 tornado touched down near the end of the path of two other violent tornadoes that struck the Birmingham region in 1956 and in 1998. In 1998, another F5 started north of Tuscaloosa before ending southwest of Tarrant after killing 32. The 1956 F4 tornado which follow a similar path through Birmingham killed 25.