Two Years Ago Today

| April 27, 2013 @ 8:00 am


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…

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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.


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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