The impact that occurred in Alabama stands as the most severe natural disaster in the state’s history. Its magnitude was a staggering 175,000 times greater than the atomic bomb that devastated Hiroshima. Even to this day, the scars left by this cataclysmic event are visible across the Alabama landscape.
The disaster struck the small town of Wetumpka, Alabama, making it ground zero for this unprecedented event. This unique phenomenon is the only one of its kind in the state of Alabama and one of merely 157 similar incidents worldwide. It’s important to note that this event predates the existence of the state of Alabama itself.
Around 80 million years ago, an asteroid with a diameter of over 1,000 feet collided with the region currently recognized as Wetumpka and Elmore County. This impact occurred during a time when the area was submerged under the waters of an ancient ocean. The result of this cataclysmic event is a prominent landmark that still exists today – the Wetumpka Impact Crater.
When you arrive in Wetumpka via US Hwy 231 or Alabama Hwy 14, you’ll immediately notice the unique topography of the area. The landscape features a semi-bowl shape, with a crescent-shaped row of hills running along its perimeter. These hills are actually the remnants of an ancient asteroid crater, which spans from 4.7 to 6 miles in diameter. The edges of the crater rise up to 300 feet above the surrounding river plains. The highest point on the crater’s rim, known as Bald Knob, still stands to this day.
In 1976, geologist Thornton L. Neathery and his colleagues from the Geological Survey of Alabama proposed the odd land formation to be an ancient impact crater. They named it the Wetumpka Astrobleme. The confirmation came in 1999 when Neathery, along with Auburn geologist David T. King, conducted a deep drilling operation in the center of the crater. The samples collected from the area confirmed that it was indeed the result of a massive cosmic impact. Auburn researchers published their findings in 2002, gaining international recognition for the crater. For more information about the Auburn study, click here.
If you’re planning a visit to Wetumpka and want to explore the crater up close, the Wetumpka Crater Impact Commission offers a convenient self-guided driving tour. You can easily download and print the tour guide from their website (click here or copy the link provided at the end of this article). For additional details, feel free to reach out to the Wetumpka Visitor’s Center located at 408 S. Main Street in Wetumpka. They can be contacted at (334)567-5147. To learn more about the Wetumpka Impact Crater and other fascinating attractions in the area, visit the official City of Wetumpka website (click here). If you’re interested in exploring the artistic side of Wetumpka, be sure to check out the Wetumpka Crater Art website for information on guided tours and captivating artwork throughout the town (click here).