Monday’s Severe Weather Event; One More Review

| March 20, 2013 @ 7:12 am

After a couple of days, I felt the need to share some thoughts after Monday’s severe weather event. Widespread wind damage impacted at least 18 Alabama counties; about 20 people were injured and there was considerable structural damage. Power at one point was out to over 220,000 people in our state. It was a high impact event, and it has brought out the “trolls, haters, and know-it-alls” in full force.

Let me say up front that accepting constructive criticism is very important, and a part of being successful. It is the only way we get better. Also, I know many are frustrated after being without power for two days. And, many of these people have suffered major storm damage and are in a very difficult and challenging position. Lashing out is just human nature.

When the NWS in Birmingham released a new storm survey last night that did reveal an EF-1 tornado in far northern Etowah County near Sardis City, it unleashed a new wave of comments that need addressing here. I know the easiest thing for me to do is to declare the most serious damage in these 18 counties the result of a tornado. And, to declare the weather community was wrong since no tornado warnings were issued. This would make most people very happy. But, it is not the truth, and part of the integrity process is simply telling the truth. Even when the haters are out in full force.

And, the truth is….

*Almost all of the damage in Alabama Monday was caused by straight line winds. There were two confirmed tornadoes in DeKalb County (in the Huntsville TV market, and tornado warnings were issued for both of them). The tornado in northern Etowah had a total path length of 7.9 miles, max width was 300 yards. That is an extremely tiny area… for our market 99 percent of the damage was not from a tornado.

*Roaring, winds of different direction, and twisting damage are all consistent with damaging straight line winds. And, straight line wind damage is very similar to a tornado.

*The NWS in Birmingham did a wonderful job in issuing high impact severe thunderstorm warnings… average lead time was 15 to 30 minutes, and in the warnings they said…


My faults…

*I have not done a good job reminding people to take severe thunderstorm warnings seriously.

*Encouraging people to add severe thunderstorm warnings to the list of warnings they receive on smart phone apps like NOAA Weather Radio.

*No tornado warning for the northern Etowah county storm. No, I don’t issue warnings, the NWS does. But, perhaps it could have been caught. Unfortunately, it is impossible to warn for some smaller EF-0/EF-1 tornadoes. There was a severe thunderstorm warning that called it an “extremely dangerous situation”, and that should have been enough to get folks to shelter that heard the warning.

One of the greatest discouragements I have seen come from people angry that sirens were not sounded during Monday’s storms. I guess I will never win this… some people will depend on weather sirens until the day they die. They only reach a limited number of people outdoors… and will NOT work for people in a home, business, school, or church. Some people refuse to buy or even have interest in getting a NOAA Weather Radio. If you had one Monday, you would have known 30 minutes in most cases before the storms arrived and the damage started.

Another discouragement comes from those that are so critical of Alabama Power. The men and women who work for Alabama Power during these situations are heroes, and how they have gotten 150,000 folks back online in such a short time is remarkable. Seems like nobody wants to thank these folks who spend many long hours away from their families so they can get the power back on. Seems like we live in a world of selfishness these days.

Over the last two days I have been called everything from an idiot to a “doofus” because I claim the damage was due to straight line winds over most of the state. And, I had plenty of hate mail from people furious I cut off “Dr. Oz” Monday afternoon due to storms that were not tornado producers. One guy called me a “moron” who just loves seeing himself on TV. I assure you, I am used to the name calling. But, again, truth is the greatest defense, and I stand with the National Weather Service in their assessment that the damage Monday was from straight line winds in almost every case. Their warnings were excellent, and
timely. Sad many didn’t hear them, or didn’t pay attention.

I assure you we will work on that in coming days, weeks, and years.


Category: Alabama's Weather

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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