Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

After the Tornadoes: Toward Understanding

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Simply type the words “Alabama tornado” into any search engine and there’ll be hundreds, if not thousands of entries returned. Add to those words “April 27, 2011” and not only will your search be further refined, but you may gain a whole new perspective on the destructive forces of nature.

Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave in Tora Bora for the last several years, or were recently buried at sea, you’ve probably read or heard about the hundreds of tornadoes that struck throughout North and Central Alabama, bringing  with them resultant death, and widespread destruction.

Sure, we’ve all heard jokes about Alabama, trailer parks and tornadoes. But I assure you, there are just as many – if not more – trailer parks in California, than in Alabama. They just cost more in California. However, to be certain, humor is an important part of healing. And we Southerners – as quirky as we often are – laugh at ourselves quite frequently. The best part about it all is that we’re family. It’s kinda’ difficult to hate a stranger, which is to explain in part why we get madder’n a wet hen when outsiders mock or deride us. They don’t know that we’re all related… somehow, someway.

And yes, there’ll be the veritable “inbred” jokes as well. But to think of it, every human being has a blood relation back to Noah and Adam. So, in a very real way, we’re all kinfolk, albeit somewhat distant. Which is why this event seems to hurt so much more. It’s kinda’ hard to cry at your neighbor-down-the-street’s funeral, but much easier to cry at your mama’s funeral. You’re closer.

The point of it all, is that this event – the magnitude, the depth, breadth, severity and extent – are unparalleled in history, and it’s hit right at home – which is closer than New Orleans, even though we are Southern cousins – or New York City, which is a whole ‘nother planet in itself, with skyscrapers,  concrete canyons, asphalt fields, and 24-hour everything, including noise, (but we are kinfolk).

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has declared this event to be a Category-I disaster, making it on par with the events of September 11, 2001 and Hurricane  Katrina.

This is Alabama’s 9/11.

This is Alabama’s Katrina.

Tornadoes within tornadoes, winds in excess of 200mph… those two phenomena alone have never been witnessed.

The National Weather Service said a tornado a mile wide that appeared to originate in Hackleburg, AL traveled 132 miles, with winds surpassing 210 mph, left what some described as “a nonstop scar in the earth” 90 miles from Hackleburg to north of Huntsville, AL. That tornado was the only one to have been given the strongest rating of EF-5, and is thought to have claimed 70 lives, making it the solitary deadliest single tornado in Alabama’s history, and the second deadliest tornado in American history since the 1955 tornado in Udall, Kansas, which claimed 80 lives.

A NWS authored report of the nearby Phil Campbell, AL area reads: “A 25-foot section of pavement was sucked up and scattered. Chunks of pavement were found in a home over 1/3 mile down the road. The damage in this area was deemed to be EF-5.”

Altogether, nearly a dozen separate tornadoes claimed more than 230 Alabama lives on April 27.

Never before in history have TVA transmission lines been destroyed. Never before have North & Central Alabamians been without power from such a storm. Several years ago, an ice storm wreaked havoc throughout North & Central Alabama, but that power outage was primarily from extensive icing on rural, local, and neighborhood power lines, and from limbs or trees having fallen on them – not failure of major transmission lines. Major transmission lines feed cities with power.

To give you an idea of the scope and size of a major transmission line tower, here are two TVA-supplied photos documenting the destruction, and repair on just two towers. Remember – there were 350 knocked down.

Undoubtedly, this will be a years-long recovery.

TVA Linemen work to repair a major transmission tower damaged in the April 27, 2011 tornadoes in North Alabama.

TVA Linemen work to repair a major transmission tower damaged in the April 27, 2011 tornadoes in North Alabama.

One of 350 major transmission line towers knocked down. This one is near the Widows Creek TVA facility on Guntersville Reservoir on the Tennessee River in northeast Alabama during the April 27, 2011 tornadoes.

One of 350 major transmission line towers knocked down. This one is near the Widows Creek TVA facility on Guntersville Reservoir on the Tennessee River in northeast Alabama during the April 27, 2011 tornadoes.

2 Responses to “After the Tornadoes: Toward Understanding”

  1. wb5rmg said

    It has not been easy for me to get beyond what happened here two weeks ago. Still pretty confounding.
    This was a totally unprecedented event. NEVER before has such fury unleashed in one day. I have so many links, and I hate to overload your readers with so much stuff, but try a few of these. Sure to keep you busy for a few days…

    This one is very well written, and has great inside info from the
    NWS meteorologist here in Huntsville (Tim Coleman) :
    I knew that the computers had predicted bad stuff, but I hadn’t understood the magnitude of scale in that particular EHI index. Never before has a forecast been so high. (see the detail for Apr 29, where the forecasters admit ‘we were frightened’)..!..

    Here is the link to an informative tornado summary map :

    Click to access TORNADO_MAP.pdf

    Storm Survey Information from NWS office in Huntsville
    (lots of detail and damage maps)

    Raw reports from the NOAA Storm Prediction Center for that day

    Interesting little video explaining what happen to our electricity.
    http://tva.gov/news/ (watch the 5 min movie)

    This guy flew the entire route of this particular F5 tornado.
    http://www.sellersphoto.com/tornado/ (excellent aerial coverage)

    OK, enough of this. You strike nerves with your writing, many are still near the surface. I’m getting over it more and more each day, but it didn’t even flip a shingle at my house. Some of our friends and neighbors don’t even HAVE ANY shingles anymore. This will take a while. I ache for them every night when I turn out my lights. We ‘suffered’ thru an extended power outage – they have lost their homes, their photos, their ‘stuff’, even some of their friends and neighbors – yet they are mighty glad to have their life and their helpful friends.

    In the mean-time… how can we be better prepared ? How might we respond next time. We all know it could happen again – next week, next month, next year . . . . . Will you be any better prepared ?

    Thanks /;^)


    • Warm Southern Breeze said

      Several times, I have started and stopped the process of initiating a response. My thoughts race, flitting from one idea to another. I don’t know what to say, or how to begin.

      I think of what you last wrote, asking “Will you be any better prepared?” Honestly, at this point, my answer is “no.” Does that mean I was prepared?

      No, it does not. What is preparation, after all?

      We – you and I, and others in the Emergency Response System – have trained for years for events such as these. But what about others who have not, or will not?

      Can we control nature, and natural disasters?

      Probably not.

      I’ve not yet read where humanity has ever prevented a storm. But, I have read where humanity has ameliorated the potential for damage and loss of lives and property. I think that is the direction we’d like to head – lessening the “impact” of the destructive forces of nature.

      I think about houses. They’re stick-built structures.

      Remember the story of “The Three Little Pigs”? The Big Bad Wolf said, “I’ll huff, and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down!” The houses built of straw and of stick were quickly demolished, while the house built of brick withstood the threat of destructive forces.

      While building houses of stone is largely impractical and costly (beyond the means of the average person), there are other ways to construct a house to withstand nature’s destructive forces. We can take lessons from Florida, where designers, builders, and regulatory authorities have collaborated to create structures able to withstand hurricane force winds. It concerns me that Alabama has seemingly largely ignored the good building practices of states around us. In other words, we haven’t learned from our neighbors’ lessons. I hope this is the time we begin to change such obstinately stubborn ways. It doesn’t reflect well on our people, or on our state at large.

      In the coming days, I will be writing on such designs and methods to design and construct houses to withstand various natural disasters.

      Stay tuned!


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