Living in the south, we know what April means. No, not tax day. Nor Opening Day for baseball (go BRAVES!!!), nor the first fishing trips in the warm weather. April means tornado season. For those of us in Mississippi and Alabama, we know the odds are stacked against us.
Today started out a little different. I’m a weather geek. I watch maps, look at SPC outlooks, read the NAM maps, check dewpoints, etc. I have the abc3340.com weather blog bookmarked on all computers and phone. So does Mom in MS. So I knew that we were under a moderate risk of severe weather and the parameters were boiling nicely for a HIGH risk. High risk is rarely seen on the SPC map. We never got a High but we should have.
I woke up and immediately checked the weather. Things were bad in OK and AR overnight and we still had this huge mass of unstable air just hanging over central MS and AL. I dressed in my usual jeans and school shirt, but skipped the flip flops. I put on my running shoes. Little did I know that I would actually have to use them.
I went to CrossFit and had a horrible workout. My mind was just nervous. My father is usually on facebook early and I didn’t see him there. Mom had not checked in on fb either so I was worried that the squall line had already come through my hometown…6 miles from Clinton, MS. When I got in touch with Mom and things were fine then, I went on to school to prepare for a day of nervous kids and teachers hanging out in the hallway since it seemed we would be under many tornado warnings.
As the news reported this:
I sat and cried while another teacher watched my kids (at the time, nothing was happening in AL but rain). This was Clinton, MS. We grew up here. My church home is right behind that Home Depot in the background. My father often drives into Clinton for work. I got in touch with Mom, who works in Jackson, and she said she was trying to call my father. A few minutes later, I knew they and most of our friends in Clinton had checked in with each other. We are small communities and closely tied together. The cell towers were overloaded but nothing stopped the power of Facebook in times like this.
Around 11:00 we got the notice from Central Office that schools would dismiss at 12:30. There is a lot of controversy surrounding schools dismissing for storms and I really do not want another discussion about it.
During this time, I saw a tweet from Jim Cantore, from the Weather Channel…”headed to Tuscaloosa”. No offense, but when he shows up, you know it’s going to be bad.
After all the kids were gone, I checked the weather one last time before going home. Nothing was coming our way..at that time. I was on the interstate about 6 miles from home when Stephen calls and told me to stay away from our town. There was a tornado on the ground headed that way, expected to arrive in about 20 min if it stayed on the same path. I told him I had to get Frankie and he agreed I had time if I hurried. Nobody was on the road and I flew the 4 miles to my house. When I got out of the car, I felt the rotating wind. You feel wind hit one side of your body and the other side a split second later. Little dust swirls were dancing across the road. I ran in, grabbed Frankie who was under the table, found his carrier and back to the car. To my west, it was pitch black. It would have been a gorgeous picture with the contrasting bright houses and neon green trees. I got back on the road and headed to the interstate. Mom called to tell me the same thing, she saw it on the weather blog. I got back on the phone with Stephen to find out where this thing was going. While waiting to hear from him, I turned on the radio to hear this:
We have a report of a 3/4 mile wide tornado on the ground with this storm!
the one in northern Greene County is forming a large, violent tornado. It is the first storm James has seen hit a 10 out of 10 on our radar system’s BTI index…
It is just north of Gainesville…
It is going to move somewhere between “City A and Katrina’s town”
114 knots of rotation near “Katrina’s Town” in southwestern Tuscaloosa County…this is strong indication of tornado…
When I finally got him, he was in the storm shelter at work. They had computers there, but no TV. From what he could see and hear from the live TV streaming, the storm would move over our town continue far north of Tuscaloosa. I asked him if I should go south to our family’s house and wait in there. He at first said yes, it looked safe, then he said..”wait…you know the history of storms going south…get off the interstate, go north to Tuscaloosa city”. I did just that. I went north, drove back to school because I had my school laptop and I knew I could get wireless from our server. I got online and saw where it was headed. Frankie was just a meowing and I called my friend who lives close to school. I called and she said “we are at my mother’s house going to the basement. Get here NOW”. Bless her. I called my mom and Stephen and told them I was going to downtown Tuscaloosa to a basement and I was staying put. I got there, and got Frankie in the laundry room where he went to sleep, and we sat in the basement and watched the news.
I watched it go over our house. I remember thinking “our house can’t withstand 100mph winds”. That was the last thing I remember the radio news guy saying “This monster is registering 100+mph winds! It’s huge!”
Then, to our surprise, there was a second tornado that formed and went..south…right towards my family’s house. Right where I originally planned to go. Right where Stephen reminded me that tornadoes love that area of town. Right where it hit a community college. We watched this thing live on TV and all we could do was stare in shock. This was the same area of town of the deadly 2000 tornado. There really IS a favorable tornado ally even in small areas of the state. I hope Jim Cantore got to see it.
As I waited out the storms, all I could focus on was that my family..in both states…was safe. My family in south Tuscaloosa sustained severe roof damage. We have damage to our back porch roof. We can tear it down and rebuild. We will be fine.
After it was all over, 17 people died in these storms. And it’s still going. At this time, the Carolinas are under the gun.
And the Sugarland, Little Big Town concert was cancelled in Tuscaloosa. They even made a video for us.