Tag: April 27

From Austin, With Love

| April 26, 2016 @ 7:00 am

This is a guest essay from a native Alabamian now living in Texas.

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I didn’t sense any danger on April 27 until I tried to pry the Regions Bank door open and noticed the handwritten note – “Closed due to inclement weather.”

My mom had called that morning from her job at Children’s Hospital to warn me of the storms headed our way from Mississippi and the seriousness of the events ahead of us. I listened, but didn’t feel the need to cancel the frozen yogurt date with my future roommate I had set for later that afternoon.

I didn’t feel concern during class later that day, or at the late, celebratory lunch at Newk’s with my friend Hannah as we acknowledged our last public speaking class had finally come to an end.

But here at the campus branch of Regions Bank, a brief wave of concern hit me when I realized I needed to get serious about the impending weather headed toward us that day.

I canceled the afternoon’s roommate date and immediately called my boyfriend, Adam, who didn’t answer. He must be napping, I thought.

Growing up in Alabama, I was among those that felt fairly comfortable at the beginning of that bright, Tuscaloosa day. I had stayed up many a night in my family’s basement back in Birmingham, the neon light from our old, deep-set TV blaring as James Spann walked across the screen in a stark white button down and suspenders. I knew the drill.

Remember sitting in the hallway as kindergarteners, learning the actual tornado drill? Knees up, head down. Concrete cinder blocks against your back.

When the power went out at Adam’s Alberta apartment, I got very anxious. I wasn’t in my parents’ underground basement with our go-to, window-less spot steps away from me.

So when I felt my nervous system kicking into gear, I ran out onto the second floor, wrap-around porch at Arlington Square Apartments and observed the sky, not realizing the tornado James Spann had just spotted in downtown Tuscaloosa was only minutes from where I stood.

Thankfully, I spied a group of students running out of their house below me, headed toward a cellar door around the backside of the old, one-story building. One of them saw me and yelled, “It’s behind you!” I called out for Adam and we ran down the steep wooden steps toward our newfound, one-time-use, go-to spot.

I remember Adam trying to lock-up the apartment before we ran to join the others. Today, I find that funny.

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Five years ago, April 27 began – and went – very differently for each of us. You may have been a student in class when things got serious for you, or listening to James Spann in the comfort of your go-to spot, or working through the storms with only snippets of information about the disaster that rocked our state (and much of the South) that day.

Regardless of your individual, very real experience, I believe we are all bound by the tragedy of it all. No matter if you experienced “real” loss that day, we all had our world as we knew it changed. If only by a little bit.

What I hope and wish for all of us as I reflect on that day is that each of you feel more whole today than you did five years ago. I know for some, especially those experiencing loss of a loved one, that may still seem impossible. And that’s okay.

On this poignant anniversary day, I believe it’s important to pause and reflect. Remember the moments that are forever penned in our minds. Moments of sadness, shock and fear; with moments of gratefulness, love and hope intermingled.

Being away from Alabama today is very difficult for me. Even though I am no longer a resident of Alabama the Beautiful, I carry the spirit of all of us Alabamians with me always. Being a Crimson Tide fan, I’ve always felt pride. But, after 4/27/11, I have felt a sense of connection to the state and its residents that I have never felt before. Today, I feel a great need to send my sincerest thanks to those named and nameless that touched mine and Adam’s heart that day, and in the fragile time following that somber life event.

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I was always taught to send a prompt thank-you note after someone did something nice for me as a child. This one is five years late, so apologies in advance for the belatedness –

Dear Alabama,

I’m writing to thank you – and your courageous residents – for the overwhelming help you sent mine and Adam’s way five years ago. Knowing you were going through quite a rough time yourself, the sincere gestures mean the world to us.

I will try to shy away from naming any specific individuals for fear of missing a special someone, but I would like to at least call out the following groups in gratitude:

To Mr. James Spann, you saved both ours and many others’ lives five years ago. Words truly cannot express the amount of appreciation we have for you and ABC 33/40 for the in-depth coverage and preparation you gave us. Also, Texas needs you, Mr. Spann. My expectations for meteorologists have been set far too high.

To Adam’s neighbors, thank you for inviting us into your go-to spot that terrifying afternoon. You could have easily focused on the safety of yourself and your friends, but you called out to me. You were our heroes that day, and for that I am eternally thankful. I would also like to apologize for not sending this thank-you to each of you sooner.

To the deaf couple I spent most of my post-tornado moments with, thank you for reminding me what matters most in a time when we both needed it the most. I will never forget either of you, or the love you showed me. I’m so glad I was able to see you a few days after the tornado when you ventured back to the spot that forever changed our lives with your family from Florida. I hope you’re both doing well. You deserve the world.

To the first responders, you are the true heroes of April 27. I saw so many putting their own lives on the line to save another that day. And I heard of many more in the days following. I am humbled by your acts of sincere love and kindness. Thank you.

To the Crimson White, thank you for covering this important event for our university and town. Two of your best reporters were some of the first people we saw after leaving our disaster area that day, and your coverage of our story helped aide our healing process. Thank you for doing the difficult thing that day and being true journalists when some of you were suffering from loss yourselves.

To The University of Alabama and Tuscaloosa (one in the same, in my heart), thank you for treating each student as family in the days, weeks and months of recovery that year. I would like to specifically call-out the Advertising and Public Relations Department, as well as, the School of Engineering for being our places of refuge in our remaining years at UA. You treated us as normal students and made our previous dreams still a reality for us despite the setbacks felt following such a traumatic event. Thank you also to Mayor Maddox and the leadership at UA for your efforts to pull our town back together as smoothly, and thoughtfully, as possible.

To the volunteers and donors, thank you for sacrificing your time and showing us and many other strangers such generosity. Thanks to UA for setting up the UA Acts of Kindness fund that contributed to Adam’s needs not covered by FEMA. Thanks to the out-of-towners that spent their spring break helping piece together our state, too.

To the Prattville couple we never met, thank you for gathering Adam’s childhood keepsakes you found scattered around the rubble. I’ll never forget the day we drove up to the site and saw the pile neatly gathered and set aside for us to find.

To our families, thank you for the love and support you still give us as we deal with the trauma of April 27. To Adam’s family specifically, thank you for providing us a temporary home as we shuffled back and forth with your borrowed cargo van to gather remnants of our things. Thank you also for replacing Adam’s FJ Cruiser. Seeing his face lit-up with the replacement of this specific item lost still brings me much joy.

To the 2011-2012 Alabama Football team, I know we get teased for our unwavering obsession with you, but I don’t care. I truly believe you gave so many people the hope they were looking for as you soared through an incredible season and breathed life into a town hurting so deeply. I cried when we lost to LSU, and cried when we beat them in the game that counted the most.

I would also like to thank three groups of friends – the friends I abandoned, the friends that helped me piece through life immediately following 4/27/11, and the new friends that support me today. I still don’t fully know how I truly was the summer and year after April 27. I was not very aware of myself – I only knew I felt very little pleasure as I grappled with fear, guilt and depression. To my current and future roommates at the time, I apologize for straight-up abandoning you as I clung to Adam for support. I know that was not what you signed-up for and I’m sorry. To the Avanti orientation team at UA that worked with me every day that summer, I’m sorry for being the least-dedicated, emotionally numb team member. I thank you for understanding my need for space, random spouts of neediness and tears, and the low-level anger I felt every day. Thank you specifically to those that helped me in the week Adam was out of town competing with his engineering team at NASA. It’s silly to think about it now, but I truly didn’t know how to cope with being away from him that week. The day-trip to Six Flags was literally one of the happiest moments of my summer and I thank you for treating me with extra care as I had a mini-panic attack when we almost drove past Alberta on the way home to UA. To my new Austin friends, thank you for the support and encouragement. Thank you for always having an open heart when I rant about random things as I continue to struggle with doubt, anxiety and fear. Thank you especially to my therapist, Priscilla, for helping me be courageous.

Lastly, to my husband Adam, thank you for being my strength in this winding road to recovery. For turning April 27, 2012 into a day of possibility. For taking April 30, 2011 off to ensure we celebrated my birthday, even though you missed meeting the President visiting your apartment.

Roll Tide, War Eagle, etc.

Yours forever,
Jessica

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Jessica Melton lives in Austin, Texas and would like to send a special thank you to Taylor Holland and her entire Austin family for the encouragement and support in writing this piece.

Two Years Ago Today

| April 27, 2013 @ 8:00 am

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Photo from Tommy Mosley

I often wish I was a writer, like Rick Bragg. But, God chose not to give me that gift. It is for that reason I always struggle to write what I feel on this day.

It is my belief we are born to accomplish certain goals. To be at specific places at a moment in time. Whether your life lasts six hours, or ninety nine years. We all have a defining moment; all of our life experiences, lessons, and knowledge take us to that moment. If we are ready or not.

For me it sure seems like I was meant to be on the big green wall April 27, 2011. My friend Jason Simpson was meant to be in that studio with me. There is no manual or guide on covering 62 tornadoes in one day; you just have to do the best you can. I could not have asked for a better partner than Jason. He is one of the smartest guys I know, and loves the people of this state.

We were so far from perfect that day. Our primary radar system had the pixels displaced five miles to the south, leading me to call tornado locations that were “off” slightly on two occasions. The morning round of storms knocked out many of our cameras, and much of the infrastructure we rely on at ABC 33/40.

But, we did the best we could under the circumstances. I stopped playing mental gymnastics a year ago, and now I am simply focused on making the severe weather warning process better. There is no way, and I mean no way, 252 people should have died that way, when tornado warning lead times were generally between 25 and 50 minutes. Plenty of time to get to safety.

Sure, in come cases there was nothing you could do. It was just their day. We all have an appointed day to die. But for so many they didn’t have to lose their life April 27, 2011.

You can go through my social media accounts and see pictures and stories…

Facebook
Twitter
Google Plus

But the point of this post is to let you know we have worked hard over the past two years to make the warning process better. No, there is a very, very good chance we won’t have another April 27 for at least forty years. But, all it takes is just one tornado in the entire state, and if that one comes through your neighborhood, then that becomes YOUR April 27.

Here is some of the progress…

*The false alarm ratio for tornado warnings issued by the National Weather Service in Birmingham has been cut in half since April 2011. This will reduce the “cry wolf” syndrome, and make people take warnings seriously. My friends at the NWS here have done an remarkable job in making this happen by going back to basic science.

*We have expanded the ABC 33/40 SKYCAM network at a rapid pace, and new cameras are in the pipeline that will go online soon. We have learned that a live stream of a tornado will make people take cover; often people see extremely dangerous radar signatures as simply buckets of spilled paint. We must get cameras on as many tornadoes as possible.

*Our aggressive “NO SIREN” campaign is working. The siren mentality has killed countless numbers of people in our state; the notion that you will hear an outdoor warning siren before a tornado. Our push to get NOAA Weather Radio receivers in all homes, businesses, and churches, along with smart phone apps like MyWarn and iMap WeatherRadio, is paying off.

*The idea of having a severe weather kit with items like shoes, air horns, and helmets is also catching on. More and more Alabamians are getting on board.

Please take a few minutes today and say a prayer for those that went through the worst of April 27, 2011. You will never know the pain, but at least we can cry with them and say an encouraging word. We mourn the 252 that died, but celebrate those that are alive today.

I am looking forward to seeing my friend Mayor Walt Maddox of the City of Tuscaloosa; we will be “guest coaches” at the UAB spring football game today at the west soccer field on the UAB campus. He leadership in the days after April 27 was an example for us all. Mayor Maddox represented the state so well. UAB players will all have 4.27.11 on their helmets as we remember that day with wonder, sadness, and awe.

Please remember the state of Alabama in your prayers today.

Is This Like April 27?

| December 25, 2012 @ 4:00 am

Most of us in the weather enterprise have stopped answering this question every time we have a severe weather threat like Tuesday. We will probably hear the question for years.

I think we all understand the April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak that killed 252 people in Alabama was generational. They actually happen about every 40 years on average; we only had two events like it last century. March 21, 1932, and April 3, 1974. Extremely rare.

Why won’t we answer the question?

Simple.

All it takes is ONE tornado coming down your street, and that makes it YOUR April 27. Ask our friends in Center Point and Clay… the January 23 event this year was their April 27… even though the two events on the large scale were not in the same league. Not in the same universe.

So, if you ask is the Christmas event like April 27, 2011? Don’t expect an answer… you just have to be informed and prepared. Just read our blog posts here for full details on the expected Christmas Day/Night event…

Five Months Ago At This Hour

| September 27, 2011 @ 5:02 pm | 8 Replies

A violent tornado was moving through Tuscaloosa, where 51 would die. A total of 63 tornadoes touched down statewide killing 247. A day we won’t soon forget.

April Tornadoes – Final Stats

| August 26, 2011 @ 2:04 pm | 12 Replies

Many of us are still reeling from the generational tornado outbreak of April 27. Take some time to read the final report from the NWS released this afternoon. Thanks to our friends at the Birmingham office for their long hours of work in putting this together.

NOUS44 KBMX 261901
PNSBMX
ALZ011>015-017>050-270100-

PUBLIC INFORMATION STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE BIRMINGHAM AL
200 PM CDT FRI AUG 26 2011

…DATA FINALIZED FOR THE APRIL 2011 HISTORIC TORNADO OUTBREAKS…

THE MONTH OF APRIL 2011 BROUGHT WITH IT AN UNPRECEDENTED AMOUNT OF
SEVERE WEATHER. BESIDES MULTIPLE DAYS WITH DAMAGING STRAIGHT LINE
WIND EVENTS, THERE WERE TWO DAYS WHICH USHERED IN A RECORD NUMBER OF
TORNADOES WHICH INCLUDED SEVERAL VIOLENT TORNADOES.

AS PART OF A SYSTEM WHICH WREAKED HAVOC ON THE EASTERN HALF OF THE
UNITED STATES FROM APRIL 14TH TO APRIL 16TH, WIDESPREAD SUPERCELLS
BROUGHT A RECORD NUMBER OF TORNADOES TO ALABAMA ON APRIL 15TH. ON
THIS DAY ALONE, ALABAMA EXPERIENCED 45 TORNADOES, ALL OF WHICH WERE
EF-3 OR WEAKER.

A LITTLE MORE THAN A WEEK LATER, FROM APRIL 25TH TO APRIL 28TH, MUCH
OF THE EASTERN HALF OF THE UNITED STATES EXPERIENCED ONE OF THE MOST
EXTENSIVE TORNADO OUTBREAKS THIS COUNTRY HAS EVER SEEN. CENTRAL
ALABAMA TOOK THE BRUNT OF ITS DAMAGE ON APRIL 27TH. FIRST, A QUASI-
LINEAR CONVECTIVE SYSTEM MOVED THROUGH DURING THE EARLY MORNING
HOURS, FOLLOWED BY THE OUTBREAK OF VIOLENT TORNADIC SUPERCELLS IN
THE AFTERNOON. THE MORNING ACTIVITY PRODUCED WIDESPREAD WIND DAMAGE
AND SEVERAL TORNADOES. THE AFTERNOON ACTIVITY PRODUCED THE MAJORITY
OF THE MOST INTENSE DAMAGE. ON THIS DAY, ALABAMA EXPERIENCED
62 TORNADOES.

A THOROUGH STUDY OF EACH TORNADO PATH HAS BEEN CONDUCTED. SEVERAL
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE OFFICES, STATE AND COUNTY EMERGENCY
MANAGEMENT OFFICIALS, AND SEVERAL NATIONAL INVESTIGATORS COORDINATED
AND ANALYZED THESE DATA SETS. THIS STATEMENT WILL SERVE AS THE FINAL
INFORMATIONAL STATEMENT ABOUT THESE TWO HISTORIC EVENTS. HERE ARE
SOME STATISTICS FROM THOSE TWO DAYS:

…CENTRAL ALABAMA STATISTICS FROM THOSE TWO FATEFUL DAYS…

TORNADOES ARE OFFICIALLY RANKED BY THE MOST INTENSE STRENGTH ALONG
THE ENTIRE PATH. FOR EXAMPLE, THE SMITHVILLE, MS, TORNADO ON
APRIL 27TH WAS RANKED AS AN EF-5. EVEN THOUGH THE TORNADO ONLY
REACHED EF-3 STRENGTH IN CENTRAL ALABAMA, FOR THE RECORD, THE WHOLE
TORNADO IS RANKED EF-5. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN THE TORNADO
STRENGTH IN ALABAMA ONLY, IT WOULD BE AN EF-3. THERE WERE SEVERAL
SUCH TORNADO INCIDENTS DURING THESE EVENTS.

ON APRIL 15TH AND APRIL 27TH, THERE WERE 29 TORNADOES EACH DAY IN
CENTRAL ALABAMA.

THE ACTUAL TORNADO STRENGTH BREAKDOWN IN CENTRAL ALABAMA FOR
APRIL 15TH LOOKS LIKE THIS:

EF-5: 0
EF-4: 0
EF-3: 4
EF-2: 10
EF-1: 10
EF-0: 5

THE ACTUAL TORNADO STRENGTH BREAKDOWN IN CENTRAL ALABAMA FOR
APRIL 27TH LOOKS LIKE THIS:

EF-5: 1
EF-4: 4
EF-3: 8
EF-2: 5
EF-1: 10
EF-0: 1

THERE WERE A TOTAL OF 4 DEATHS DIRECTLY RELATED TO THE TORNADOES IN
CENTRAL ALABAMA ON APRIL 15TH.

THERE WERE A TOTAL OF 139 DEATHS DIRECTLY RELATED TO THE TORNADOES
IN CENTRAL ALABAMA ON APRIL 27TH.

OF THOSE 139 DEATHS ON APRIL 27TH, 86 PEOPLE WERE KILLED IN
PERMANENT STRUCTURES, SUCH AS A HOME, FACTORY OR CHURCH. 46 WERE
KILLED WHILE IN MANUFACTURED HOMES. 2 FATALITIES OCCURRED WHILE
PEOPLE WERE STILL IN THEIR VEHICLES AND 2 OTHERS WHILE OUTDOORS.
THESE NUMBERS ARE COURTESY OF FEMA, LOCAL EMA AND THE RED CROSS.

…STATEWIDE STATISTICS FOR THOSE TWO FATEFUL DAYS…

ON APRIL 15TH, THE STATE OF ALABAMA SET A RECORD FOR THE NUMBER OF
TORNADOES ON ONE CALENDAR DAY WITH 45. THE PREVIOUS RECORD WAS SET
ON THE VETERANS DAY OUTBREAK OF NOVEMBER 24, 2001 WHEN 36 TWISTERS
TOUCHED DOWN.

TWELVE DAYS LATER, ON APRIL 27TH, THE RECORD SET ON APRIL 15TH WAS
BROKEN WHEN 62 TORNADOES TORE ACROSS THE STATE.

THERE WERE 7 DEATHS IN THE STATE OF ALABAMA ON APRIL 15TH.

SINCE 1874, ALABAMA HAD ONLY EXPERIENCED 6 EF-5 TORNADOES. ON APRIL
27TH ALONE, 3 OCCURRED.

SINCE 1874, ALABAMA HAD EXPERIENCED 64 EF-4 TORNADOES. ON APRIL 27TH
ALONE, 8 OCCURRED.

THE 129-MILE LONG CORDOVA EF-4 TORNADO RANKS SECOND LONGEST IN
ALABAMA RECORDED HISTORY TO THE GUIN EF-5 IN APRIL 1974 (135 MILES).

APRIL 27TH SAW 5 OF THE 10 LONGEST TORNADO TRACKS IN RECORDED
HISTORY.

THERE WERE 247 DEATHS IN THE STATE OF ALABAMA ON APRIL 27TH. THIS
RANKS AS THE SECOND DEADLIEST DAY IN ALABAMA BEHIND THE MARCH 1932
OUTBREAK WHEN 270 DIED.

…ADDITIONAL INFORMATION…

FOR MORE SPECIFIC AND DETAILED INFORMATION ABOUT EACH TORNADO PATH,
PLEASE VISIT THE WEB SITES OF EACH NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE OFFICE
THAT WAS AFFECTED:

NWS BIRMINGHAM
WWW.SRH.NOAA.GOV/BMX/?N=EVENT_04272011 (ALL LOWER CASE)

NWS JACKSON
WWW.SRH.NOAA.GOV/JAN/?N=2011_04_25_27_SVR (ALL LOWER CASE)

NWS HUNTSVILLE
WWW.SRH.NOAA.GOV/HUN/?N=HUNSUR_2011-04-27_MAIN (ALL LOWER CASE)

NWS MOBILE
WWW.SRH.NOAA.GOV/MOB/?N=20110427_TOR (ALL LOWER CASE)

NWS PEACHTREE CITY
WWW.SRH.NOAA.GOV/FFC/?N=20110427_SVRSTORMS (ALL LOWER CASE)

FOR ADDITIONAL INQUIRIES, PLEASE CONTACT;
WARNING COORDINATION METEOROLOGIST JOHN DE BLOCK AT 205-664-3010, OR
METEOROLOGIST IN CHARGE JIM STEFKOVICH AT 205-585-8635.

A SPECIAL THANKS TO THE MANY COUNTY EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT OFFICIALS,
THE ALABAMA STATE EMA, THE FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY, THE
ALABAMA NATIONAL GUARD, LOCAL POLICE OFFICIALS, THE ALABAMA STATE
TROOPERS AND LOCAL FIRE OFFICIALS FOR THEIR ASSISTANCE WITH THE
NUMEROUS STORM SURVEYS.

A MAJOR CONTRIBUTION TO THE SUCCESS OF OUR SEVERE WEATHER WARNING
PROGRAM IS THE RECEIPT OF STORM REPORTS FROM ALL OUR CUSTOMERS AND
PARTNERS ACROSS CENTRAL ALABAMA. IF YOU WITNESSED OR ARE AWARE OF
ANY STORM DAMAGE DUE TO HIGH WINDS OR TORNADOES, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR
LOCAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT OFFICE OR CALL OUR STORM REPORTING
HOTLINE AT 1-800-856-0758.