HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – March 28, 1984 is a day that is burned into the memory of many Carolinians. The date of one of the worst tornado outbreaks to ever strike the Carolinas, which brought several strong and violent tornadoes to the region, including two F-4s and one F-2 to the Pee Dee and Grand Strand.
During the early afternoon hours, the storm system that brought the outbreak only spawned two weak tornadoes over northern Georgia, but the system gained incredible strength as it moved eastward. Tornado watches had been issued for most of South Carolina, North Carolina and portions of Virginia. Severe storms began entering western portions of South Carolina by mid-afternoon, and the first tornado in the Carolinas touched down at around 4:30 p.m. in Abbeville County; that tornado was given a rating of F-1.
At 7:10 p.m. that evening, a large, violent tornado touched down in Marlboro County and passed through the northern side of Bennettsville. The tornado destroyed the Northwoods Shopping Center in Bennettsville, as well as a large apartment complex among many other buildings and residences before dissipating near Laurinburg in Scotland County. This tornado was on the ground for 17 miles and killed seven people in South Carolina and injured more than 100. Some reports state that the tornado widened to approximately two miles as it crossed the South Carolina/North Carolina state line, which would place it among the largest tornadoes to strike the southeast. The tornado was given an official rating of F-4, meaning its maximum winds were likely between 166 and 200 miles per hour.
Shortly after that tornado dissipated, another large, violent F-4 tornado touched down just outside of Bennettsville. This tornado was also estimated to be around one mile wide along its 45 mile path, nearly paralleling the previous tornado's path. The tornado devastated the towns of McColl and Tatum east of Bennettsville and eventually the towns of Johns and Maxton after crossing the state line. The tornado then obliterated the town of Red Springs, North Carolina, rendering the town unrecognizable before dissipating near Parkton. Every building in the town of Red Springs that was not destroyed received at least F-1 damage. One person was killed and 280 were injured in this tornado.
An F-2 tornado touched down in Horry County around 9:30 that evening northwest of Conway and traveled along the ground for approximately 16 miles into Columbus County, North Carolina. Eight people were injured, but there were no fatalities.
Confirmed tornadoes touched down in eight South Carolina counties and 17 North Carolina counties. According to meteorologists, this was a rare and unusual East Coast outbreak in several meteorological specifics, but also in its intensity- in this event, one single storm cell produced a family of 13 tornadoes, 10 of which were F-3 or F-4.
When all was said and done, 24 tornadoes were confirmed, along with 57 deaths and more than 1,200 injuries. Seven of those tornadoes were F-2, five were F-3 and 7 were F-4, a testament to the strength and intensity of this rare outbreak.