According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), last week’s tornado outbreak was the biggest on record for a single 24-hour period.
Preliminary estimates counted 312 tornadoes from April 27 to April 28, far above the previous record of 148 in 1974. April also set a record for most tornadoes in a single month too — more than 600, compared with the previous record of 542 in May 2003.
Last week’s storms killed 342 across seven states, but the state worst hit with death and property destruction was Alabama, where the storms also devastated Alabama’s $2.4 Billion a year poultry industry.
Some 200 poultry houses were completely destroyed with as many as 450 other houses damaged. Millions of birds were killed, according to the Wall Street Journal, with electric power lost in feed mills and processing plants.
The Journal said the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association estimates that 5 million chickens probably died in the tornadoes, which slammed the northern part of the state, where the industry is centered.
“That alone isn’t enough to disrupt chicken supplies nationally. The state usually produces about 21.5 million chickens in a week. The U.S. produces roughly 9 billion chickens annually.”
But Alabama’s bird losses could substantially increase if farmers aren’t able to quickly re-establish water supplies.
“Power outages and loss of drinking water could worsen an already critical situation for poultry producers and meat processors,” said John McMillan, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries, in a statement.
Dan Smalley, who has owned one of the largest poultry farms (400-acres) in the state of Alabama for over 30 years, estimates he will lose about 200,000 birds in the coming days because the storm destroyed all his poultry facilities.
“We can’t care for them,” Mr Smalley said as he toured his farm. “No electricity, no water.”
Nine of his 15 chicken houses accommodating 20,000 chicks each were completely destroyed. Unable to feed and water his chickens or transport them to the processing plants, Smalley says he’ll have to destroy them.
It’s not clear why Smalley couldn’t arrange for his chickens to be transported and sold to another farmer.
Alabama’s poultry industry is the third-largest in the US, producing approximately one billion broilers every year. According to a BBC report, it could be six months to a year before the industry resumes full production.
Tyson Foods Inc., the nation’s largest chicken processor, sustained no damage at its Alabama plants but two processing plants were idled by power shortages.
Smalley’s birds are sold by Pilgrim’s Pride, the second largest producer in the US, supplying retail companies like Burger King, Chick-fil-A, and KFC.
Smalley said he had to wait for the insurance company to decide which houses he had to demolish and which could be rebuilt. “We’re going to still be in the chicken business,” he said. “But to what degree, I don’t know.”