A Defining Day

| April 26, 2012 @ 9:26 pm

I took this picture in Pleasant Grove April 28, 2011, as I was getting ready to a live report on ABC 33/40.

I have done my best to accommodate all of those that requested interviews in recent weeks as we approach the one year anniversary of Alabama’s generational tornado outbreak of April 27, 2011. Bob Carlton’s piece in the Birmingham News was very well done, and accurate.

Read Bob’s article for the long story; this is a simple compilation of short thoughts running through my mind tonight. In random, bullet point form…

*TOO MANY PEOPLE DIED: To this night I still feel as if 252 members of my family died. Yes, I did know a few of the victims personally, but most were strangers. But, you see, we are all Alabamians, and around here is all for one, and one for all. I have been doing the weather on television here since 1978, and over the past 34 years I have learned to treat those that watch, read, or listen as family. I chose the Twitter tag “#WeAreAlabama” in the days following April 27 because all of those who lived in Alabama in the spring of 2011 will be bonded together permanently based on the common experience we shared.

I am “southern born, and southern bred”. This state is very special to me, and I still grieve for all 252 that perished. The high loss of life is very, very hard to accept. It happened on my watch. Those that died were moms and dads, little boys and little girls, college students, grandparents, and just good people. Across all socioeconomic lines.

*WE MUST GET BETTER: The professional weather community is working hard to make the warning process better. Very good dialogue is underway among all players in the weather enterprise, and I promise we will find out why the loss of life was so high despite excellent warnings and long lead times. I know I am not as good as I thought I was. I make the commitment now to help make the warnings better and more useful.

*LET’S NOT FORGET THOSE IN RURAL AREAS: There will be lots of attention on places like Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, and Cullman. But, we cannot forget we had 62 tornadoes in one day statewide. Places like Sawerville, Eoline, Shoal Creek, Sipsey, and Panola won’t get much media attention, but they were hit very hard too. A study released today by Engineering Analysis Inc. in Huntsville indicates that approximately 1.75% of the land area of the state of Alabama was disturbed by tornadoes during the year 2011. This fraction is the largest value for any state for the year noted, and appears to be the largest for any state for any year since 1950. So much of our state was dealt a blow.

*ALABAMIANS TOOK CARE OF BUSINESS: In the first few days following the April 27 tornado disaster, there was a shortage of help from FEMA and other government organizations simply because of the widespread nature of the event. I was so proud to see churches step in to organize disaster relief. Alabamians knew what to do, and they did it well in the days following April 27. We took care of our own people who were hurting so badly.

*LET’S CELEBRATE THE HEROES: I was kindly invited to many memorial services tomorrow across the state. I declined all of them; I believe we need to focus on the heroes of April 27, 2011. Those precious people who were at work in the emergency department of hospitals like DCH Regional Medical Center in Tuscaloosa. Those who held the hand of a neighbor that was bleeding and in shock, telling them it was going to be “OK”. The first responders. Firemen; policemen; paramedics. Men, women, and children who showed superhuman strength to get debris off people that were literally being crushed to death. The ones who took the time to hug a crying child in the midst of the greatest fear of their life. The strangers who helped other strangers. These people need to be thanked in a big way.

*I WORK WITH SOME GREAT PEOPLE: Understand the people here, specially Allbritton Communications Company, gave me the freedom to break into new territory with severe weather coverage when I went to work for ABC 33/40 when the station signed on the air in 1996. All of the long form, aggressive severe weather coverage started here, and it was quite the gamble for our owners. Providing hours and hours of non-stop tornado coverage means no ads and loss of revenue. But, they understand if you do the right thing, it will be honored. The support I have here is unprecedented in my career, and I am thankful for that every day. I still love coming to work every single day.

*WATCH OUR SPECIAL: Our one hour special will run Friday from 6 until 7 p.m. It was my goal to celebrate the lives of those that died, recognize the survivors, and honor the heroes during this program. We will stream this show live, and I will post all of the video elements online over the weekend if you can’t watch. There are so many powerful stories to tell.

The true character of a man or woman is determined by how they respond when times become very hard. Once again our state proved our character to the world in the days after April 27. But let us remember we still have many that are still homeless. There is still debris to be cleared, and neighborhoods to be rebuilt. It is my prayer tonight that we won’t walk past anyone in need… we really don’t have the license to do that. Let’s keep the rebuilding momentum, and work now on preparing for the next tornado outbreak, using the lessons learned on April 27, 2011.

God Bless Alabama.


Category: Met 101/Weather History

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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