A Pause from my Normal Posts to Remember April 27, 2011

Before getting back to my overdue travel blog posts, I would like to take a second and talk about something that happened 3 years ago today which had a profound impact on the state of Alabama.  That would be the tornado outbreak of 2011.  While most of April was filled with deadly tornadoes across the U.S., the 27th was especially bad, and especially for both Mississippi and Alabama.  For those you you who aren’t familiar with this and want to read up on it a bit more, I’ll link to the wikipedia page here.  But for a lot of you, you already know the details.  Many of you may have even been in one of those devastated areas.  I have heard many interesting stories from many friends and family about that day, and luckily, no one that I knew was hurt.

 

But before I talk about my experience on that day, I want to talk about what it means to grow up in Alabama with such strong storms ever present on our minds.  It is pretty commonplace for youngsters to be able to read a weather radar and know what a tornado warning is.  I was able to point out exactly where I lived and where I went to school on a weather map at a young age.  Later I was also able to discern where my grandparents lived as well.  I remember on one instance, when I was quite young and my sister was babysitting me, she pointed at the tv and told me to tell her if our county in the bottom right hand corner of the screen turned red while she called our neighbors to come and get us and take us to their basement for shelter.  I remember being horrified when about 30 seconds after she left the room, it started flashing red.  I also knew how to read a weather radar from a young age and what a hook echo is.  And I am sure everyone in the South knows exactly what a tornado siren sounds like and what they should do, even though most people run outside and try to look for the tornado.  Some of us probably even grew up with those annoying weather radios which screamed every time it threatened to sprinkle in the neighboring counties.

 

Every child in Alabama is also taught at a young age what to do in case of a tornado.  Several times throughout the school year we heard both the signal for the fire drills (which we luckily never had to use) and the signal for the tornado drills (which on several occasions we did use).  We would always line up, thrilled at the fact that we were missing class for another drill, and file out into the halls.  There were always hushed whispers among students as we crouched next to each other, with the teachers hushing us and telling us to cover our heads.  And during the drills it was all fun and games, but when these drills were actually put into practice, there was a whole different atmosphere.  When I was younger other children would be crying as frantic parents rushed to school to pull their kids out and rush them home to safety.  Some days when the threat of severe weather was looming, they would cancel school altogether or send kids home early.  I know now that they are trying to avoid a law suit if a tornado does happen to directly hit the school, but I can’t help but feel that some kids are safer at school than they would be at home.  Many families in Alabama live in mobile homes, which not only seem to be a magnet for tornadoes, but are also one of the worst places to be in one.  Political opinions aside, I always grew up thinking this is normal.  That everyone grew up knowing how to read a radar and that every child had tornado drills in school.

 

And this is something that has been so drilled into my head, I sometimes subconsciously do things like pick out my hiding spot if there were a tornado warning.  I have even found myself doing that here in Germany, where there are practically zero tornadoes.  I have yet to even experience a decent thunderstorm here actually.  But I have been in my dorm or in my friends’ dorms and thought, here is where I would hide, and then laughed at myself for thinking I would ever need to take shelter from a tornado in Europe.  I have caught myself staring at the sky looking for wall clouds.  And to most of my friends here (and probably to most back home if I’m being honest), I seem overly cautious during the threat of a storm.  I have been raised to be prepared for these storms, which seem to hit Alabama more and more often and increasingly at bizarre times of the year (like November and sometimes December), likely due to climate change.  But it is not without reason.  I have had some close encounters with these storms, and some close calls when it comes to family members being caught in these storms.

 

Several years back (2009 or 2010) in April a tornado hit about half a mile from my parent’s house, destroying a lot of our neighborhood, but luckily not injuring anyone.  My dad recalls being home for lunch that afternoon and taking all of the dogs to their bedroom closet with nothing but a motorcycle helmet to protect him should the tornado hit our home.  He didn’t have time to get to the neighbor’s basement even.  And in November 2011 I was caught on campus during a tornado warning.  This was particularly strange because it was on a Wednesday at 12.  Now for those of you who don’t know, that is when they usually test the tornado sirens.  I remember standing outside and seeing some pretty ominous clouds, but that is kind of common in Alabama, so I didn’t think much of it.  It had yet to start raining or lightening.  Then the sirens went off.  For awhile, I thought this was just the normal test.  Then I realized the deep voice which usually announces to the world that there is nothing to worry about was not present.  Then the heavens opened up a let forth the wrath that is an Alabama thunderstorm.  The tornado that day was pretty small, only destroying a few trailers in mine and the neighboring trailer park.  I still do not know how all of the the trees down managed to miss both my car and my trailer, but what I do remember is running home in complete panic after hearing where the tornado was in order to check on my dog, falling out of my trailer after seeing she was okay and that the trailer was only mildly damaged in order to check on my friend’s trailer and then going to the doctor to make sure I didn’t break my arm after hitting the concrete after about a five foot drop.

 

But none of this compares to the outbreak from April 25th to the 28th across much of the United States.  I was still in Auburn during this time, going to class as if it were any other day.  The weather was fine for much of the day where I was owing to the fact that I was in the southeast part of the state.  I remember waking up and doing some stuff on the internet before going to class and seeing a video of one of the first tornadoes of the day in Cullman, Alabama.  I honestly didn’t think too much of it, even though it was early in the morning.  Usually there is one wave of bad weather and then it is gone.  So I thought the danger was over for the day, at least for my family and friends in northern and central Alabama.  So I went most of the day oblivious to the peril, even brushing off the text from my parents saying the weather was pretty bad (they do tend to exaggerate these things in my defense).  I continues to ignore it until about 5 or 6 o’clock when I got a call from my sister, asking for me to check the weather radar for her.  This immediately put me on alert as she described what her day was like.  She had lost power, like most in the state, early on as they were hit by wave after wave of tornadic storms.  She had spent most of the day with her cat and in the bathroom trying to ride it out.  And every time she thought it was over, the tornado sirens would go off once more, and she would have to call my parents to let them know that the carnage was not yet over.  Eventually, even the weather sirens stopped working, which was why she had called me.  At this point I was in panic mode and raced back home to check the radar for her and frantically try to get a hold of my parents as well.  That was when I realized the complete devastation of the day’s weather.  Some of the hardest hit areas in Alabama being Harvest/Madison, Cullman/ Arab, Fultondale/ Birmingham, Phil-Campbell, Cordova/ Blountsville, Rainsville, and of course, Tuscaloosa.  Not long after this I had to pack an overnight bag and load Precious into my car because I then realized that the storms were headed for Auburn.  I remember thinking I had about 30 minutes to make it to my friend’s house after glancing at the radar, and then I realized, these storms were racing through Montgomery at an incredible speed.  By the time I had made the 10 or so minute drive to my friend’s house, the storm was already upon us.  Luckily for Auburn that day, the tornado which was produced in that particular supercell was north of us, and we were soon out of danger, but for many that day, that was not the case.

 

I am really glad that none of my friends or family were hurt during the 2011 tornado outbreak.  Today I pause to remember the complete devastation throughout the Southeast and hope that everyone back home stays weather aware this tornado season.  My thoughts are still with those communities which are still picking up the pieces three years later.

 

And anyone who wants to share their own story of the April 27th, 2011 tornado outbreak, please leave a comment below.

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2 Comments

  1. Doug Bolden said,

    April 28, 2014 at 4:41 am

    So…guess what’s happening tomorrow…almost to the anniversary?

    I blame Panoply…

    http://forecast.weather.gov/showsigwx.php?warnzone=ALZ006&warncounty=ALC089&firewxzone=ALZ006&local_place1=&product1=Hazardous+Weather+Outlook#.U13b3HWx22g

    So, at any rate, when the Doom Storm gods return to finish wiping North Alabama off the map…avenge us?

    • arichan13 said,

      April 28, 2014 at 6:20 pm

      Heh Panoply is just another word for rain dance in Alabama. And here’s hoping you guys don’t get wiped out. I’d have a really hard time avenging an entire region from the Doom Storm gods. Doom is right there in the name. I have no chance…


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