April 27 2011

Anniversary of Tornadoes

TV CoverAlgebra makes me nervous. Letters mixed with numbers doesn’t seem right to me. I’m not the norm in my town of Huntsville, Alabama -one of the top three cities for science, math and tech grads. Yet, I walk amongst them.

Some letter/number combinations are daunting to even the most precise engineer, however. Combos like F4 and F5 strike a different chord, no matter your walk of life in this town. Home of both NASA and the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, ironically, Huntsville is also targeted as the most tornado-damaged city in the nation.

On this day five years ago, we saw some of the worst devastation on April 27, 2011 from not one, but several invasive tornadoes. One formidable F5 traveled on the ground for over 90 miles to wreak its havoc. But you should see our city now. The land is recovering and beauty has been restored. A wasteland is now a park. We have more shelters, more warning systems, better awareness, which translates to future lives saved.

We are proud, yet humble. Proud of where we are now, compared to then. And humble for what the future holds for us in terms of tornado activity. We keep building and keep hope alive. God bless those who lost what can’t be rebuilt or restored. May your hope be renewed too.

You can read our stories here in Tornado Valley: Huntsville’s Havoc .

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March Madness

March Madness makes me think of basketball and my alma mater, Murray State. It also makes me think of tornadoes. I’ll never forget cleaning up after an F4 tornado hit my friend’s house on April 27, 2011. Laura and her family survived the direct hit while riding out the storm in their basement. However, the rest of the house didn’t fare so well.

As I pulled into her driveway, the trees were a dead-giveaway, or what was left of them anyway. Most were beheaded, snapped like matchsticks. The ones left standing were naked. The pressure from the tornado exploded the bark and left the trees to die a slow death. Laura had mentioned the pressure during the tornado too. During the storm, her children had held their ears in pain while Laura checked hers for bleeding-the intensity was that bad.

The house appeared to be intact from the road, but upon a closer look, the gap between the garage and the house was askew with a giant, vertical crack running the length of the two-story home. The tornado literally split the house in two. But still, Laura’s family was alive. Others, just down the road, didn’t survive. And her home, well, you could still decipher that it was a house. It would mean six months in a hotel, but at least it wasn’t wiped clean from its foundation as others in the area were.

Her neighbor’s home was one of those that went MIA. The only thing left standing in the field was what appeared to be a refrigerator, but was actually the storm shelter which saved her neighbor’s life. Laura and her husband found the neighbor inside of it, pinned inside by a massive Doppler radar ball. The radar was the one mounted on the highway stand, a half mile away. It looked much bigger on the ground as it barred the door to the storm shelter. And it felt much bigger when they pushed it a few feet to rescue their neighbor.

Despite the demolition, there always seems to be something quirky in the midst of the debris that pulls through a violent tornado. I noticed a familiar Styrofoam cup on the outside of Laura’s windowsill. Inside the cup was a new planting of a tomato which we received from our Master Gardener class, the week before the tornado. While multiple tempests destroyed miles and miles of Alabama, the little Styrofoam cup did not budge from the outer window ledge. Weird, huh? The mighty oaks were no more, but Laura could still look forward to fried green tomatoes.

It’s getting to be that time of year again-for tornadoes, not tomatoes. If I sound flippant, it’s just me getting nervous. While researching for Tornado Valley: Huntsville’s Havoc , I heard many storm accounts and personal stories. My heart beat faster as I listened and cried along with the victims, but even had a few laughs over bizarre experiences. I compiled them into a book, not to relive the moments, but to learn from those who lived through them. The tornado stories continue to fascinate me. I’d like to hear yours if you have any to share. shelly@tornadovalley.net.

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