November 15, 1989

| November 15, 2007 @ 5:18 am | 9 Replies

November 15, 1989 was a Wednesday, and I had been back on Birmingham television for only three weeks after a five year hiatus (I was on WAPI/WVTM-TV, Channel 13, from 1979 to 1984, and came back to Birmingham to join WBRC in November 1989 after a little time away in Dallas at KDFW).

A number of severe weather parameters were in place, and we were watching radar developments closely. During the afternoon, a small tornado touched down near the community of Mellow Valley, in Clay County, but otherwise the day was relatively quiet. Then, a squall line entered Northwest Alabama around 3:00, and at that point it looked like the primary issue during the afternoon and evening hours was going to be straight line winds along the line. Around 4:20, an isolated cell merged with the squall line over the southwest part of Huntsville, near Redstone Arsenal, and within minutes an F4 tornado dropped from the sky, moving through the southern part of Huntsville.

It would destroy or damage 80 businesses, 3 churches, a dozen apartment buildings, and more than 1,000 cars. It moved on, climbing over Garth Mountain, demolishing Jones Valley Elementary School, and destroying 259 homes in the Jones Valley area. All told, the tornado killed 21 people and injured 463. And, unfortunately, there was no tornado warning until several minutes after the twister touched down… this was before Doppler Radar was in operational use in Alabama. (thanks to the NWS HUN for the stats)

It was rather amazing to watch these developments unfold from our Birmingham weather office; that night we were able to pick up live coverage on WAAY-TV, which remained on the air through the event thanks to a generator. The following day, I went to Huntsville, where I did the weather live during the midday news in the midst of a snow squall. That was surreal… I could barely see across the street due to the heavy snow, which put a white blanket on the rubble of the buildings and cars destroyed by the tornado. During the 5:00 and 6:00 newscasts that evening, live from Huntsville, the wind chill index hovered near 5 degrees. One of our camera guys passed out during the 6:00 news; to this day I really don’t know if it was from exhaustion, or the severe cold.

Ask anyone who lived in Huntsville and can remember the 1989 storm… everyone has a story to tell.

The actual tornado warning that was issued for the storm is below.

ZCZC BHMTORHSV
ITAAOO KHSV 152240
ALCO89-152345-

BULLETIN – EBS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
TORNADO WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE HUNTSVILLE AL
439 PM CST WED NOV 15 1989

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN HUNTSVILLE HAS
ISSUED A TORNADO WARNING EFFECT UNTIL 545 PM CST
FOR PEOPLE IN THE FOLLOWING COUNTY…

IN NORTH ALABAMA
…MADISON

AT 4:30 PM A TORNADO WAS REPORT IN SOUTH HUNTSVILLE
NEAR THE OLD AIRPORT AREA.

THE TORNADO HAS BEEN MOVING NORTHEAST 30 MPH.

IF YOU ARE IN THE PATH OF A TORNADO…THE SAFEST PLACE
IS A BASEMENT. GET UNDER A WORKBENCH OR PIECE OF
STURDY FURNITURE. IF NO BASEMENT IS AVAILABLE…SEEK
SHELTER IN AN INTERIOR ROOM SUCH AS A CLOSET ON THE
LOWEST FLOOR. USE BLANKETS…PILLOWS…OR CUSHIONS TO
COVER YOUR BODY. AVOID WINDOWS.

NNNN

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About the Author ()

James Spann is one of the most recognized and trusted television meteorologists in the industry. He holds the AMS CCM designation and television seals from the AMS and NWA. He is a past winner of the Broadcast Meteorologist of the Year from both professional organizations.

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