It’s hard to believe that it’s already been six months. Six months ago on this date Alabama was the center of one of the deadliest tornado outbreaks in our nations history. By Thursday morning, hundreds would be dead. Many of those who lost their lives were doing what they were suppose to be doing. They were going through their tornado safety plans. Unfortunately, when you are dealing with E-F4 and E-F5 tornadoes, there is no real safe place. That was proven when the writer of this article had an aunt that lost her life after leaving her mobile home and going to a neighbors basement. The house was demolished and many people in the basement were injured and two were killed, including the above mentioned Aunt. Just in case you were wondering, as disturbing as it is, her mobile home was left untouched. Still, that is the exception, not the rule. As a matter of fact, almost everything about April 27th 2011 was an exception to the rule.
During the early morning hours thousands would lose power and would lose the roofs of their houses as a powerful line of t-storms moved through impacting over one half of Alabama’s 67 counties. Communication was made impossible for many. Stores set up areas for people to charge their phones. Another exception to the rule was NOAA weather radio. The transmitter in Marion County (where an E-F5 would track through later) was down. That meant that watches and warnings were not accessible in many counties by way of NOAA weather radio. TV wasn’t an option because the power was off. Battery power radio was basically the only way many people could get any information.
Many thought that the worst was over. Typically it would be. On a typical day, a massive area of t-storms would have caused our atmosphere to become stable. As the sun began to shine it became obvious that stability wasn’t in the atmosphere on this day.
Dr. Greg Forbes is a severe weather expert that works for the weather channel. He has created an index to determine the probability of a tornado striking in any one area. He designed a scale from 1 to 10. After looking at the morning data he decided to much of northern Alabama, eastern Mississippi, and middle Tennessee would get an unprecedented 10! This would be the first time he had ever issued a 10. It was a wise decision.
Tornadoes associated with a warm front and a linear area of t-storms kept tornado warning going in the Tennessee Valley region of north Alabama.
It would be in between 2:00 and 3:00 P.M. that the first “afternoon” supercell would develop in Cullman County, Alabama. From then until the late night hours, tornado warning after tornado warning was issued. Multiple large tornadoes were on the ground at one time in both Mississippi and Alabama. It was hard for TV meteorologists to keep up with the storms because there were so many. Even the National Weather Service in Birmingham had to briefly turn over operations to the National Weather Service in Atlanta as they felt the need to take cover themselves.
Stories of multiple fatalities started coming in during the afternoon hours. The death rate continued to rise through the night. As a matter of fact, as the night progressed, people lost their lives in several other states besides Mississippi and Alabama.
Will this ever happen again? Was this a once in a life time situation? Perhaps, but we have know way of knowing that. Weather is not an exact science and it doesn’t know statistics. Not only were lives lost, lives were changed. No longer would we compare every tornado event to Wednesday, April 3rd, 1974. Instead we would compare them all to Wednesday April 27th 2011.
It is the hope of this writer that everyone will have a tornado safety plan. If you are a parent, it’s hard to wake your children up in the middle of the night to get them to a safe place. It’s hard but it is so worth it. By doing that not only are you protecting their lives but you are instilling in their minds the danger of severe weather. Tornadoes will strike again in the “Dixie Alley.” The only question, is when. This article is dedicated to this writers Aunt; Michelle Burleson Brown. She was one of hundreds that lost their lives on that terrible Day.