Looking Back 5 Years Ago Today… April 27, 2011 Tornado Disaster #alwx @wvua23
April 27, 2016 2 Comments
Above is a clip of our coverage before we lost power due to the massive Tuscaloosa tornado. We were in a building called Reese Phifer Hall on the University of Alabama campus. UA campus has a very protected power supply, so until that point, we never invested in a back-up generator. There was never a need for one because the power source was very secure. We lost power on April 27th, as the tornado was tracking into the Forest Lake area of Tuscaloosa. The tornado destroyed 4 power substations in Tuscaloosa, so to say the least, that took our power supply. We were brushed by the tornado as it tracked through town. The core of the tornado missed us by 0.90 miles, but inflow winds were estimated at 80 mph at our TV Station. Fortunately, in the new Digital Media Center, we have a backup generator. In the event of power failure, we will have the ability to remain on air now…
It was 5 years ago today, when a horrible tornado outbreak changed my life. It’s a day that affected so many people on so many ways. Not only did a powerful tornado hit the city of Tuscaloosa, Alberta City and Holt, but 62 tornadoes tracked across the state. Many people lost their home, including myself. I lived in a neighborhood behind Big Lots and Hobby Lobby. I was so fortunate because I survived the storm, and so did all of my close friends and family. Numerous friends of mine did lose their home or apartment, but they made it out with their life, and that’s what’s most important in the end.
The days leading up to the big outbreak were more than concerning, they were downright frightening. We had a dangerous squall line move through that morning, which left many without power. When the sun came out early that morning, many folks though the severe weather was over, but the worst was yet to come. The sun added to the instability. The instability was a disastrous ingredient thrown into strong wind shear. Shear and instability are the ingredients that aren’t good to have together.
Every storm was producing large tornadoes, and the chance of tornadoes in one area was higher than I’ve ever seen before. Since the Tuscaloosa/Birmingham tornado affected me personally, I’ll focus on that tornado. Understand, there were 62 tornadoes that day that led to the largest single day tornado outbreak in Alabama’s history and nearly the most deadly. So many people were affected outside the large cities, in small towns scattered across the state.
The first tornado of the afternoon round hit downtown Cullman just after 3pm. After seeing video and hearing reports of what just happened in that area, Daniel Sparkman and I knew this really was going to be as bad as expected. A small supercell storm had just produced a large tornado in a large town; it was a disaster already.
At about 4pm, we started eyeballing a storm that was located in east Mississippi. This storm had a path directly towards Tuscaloosa. It was producing a tornado as it crossed the state line. Once it moved into Tuscaloosa County, we got the report of a wedge tornado with this storm. That was frightening! We knew this would become a disaster for the city of Tuscaloosa, Holt and Alberta City. We got the first glimpse of the tornado from our Tuscaloosa towercam when it was 20 miles away. It was at 5:13pm, when the tornado moved into the southwest side of Tuscaloosa. The warning system was as good as it gets for the storm, yet the tornado was so large, it was simply un-survivable in spots. Be sure to watch the video above from our severe weather coverage. It’s amazing that we stayed on air as long as we could. The main thought going through my mind at the time was warn as many as we can before we get hit. I thought the tornado was going to make a direct hit on our TV station. We were very close! Fortunately, the tornado just missed us to the south by 0.90 miles. Aka. Less that one mile…
After the tornado hit and we and lost power, I knew we had no way to broadcast on television. My main concern was getting to my house, where my roommate and WVUA Director, Jonathan Newman, was at the time. I had no idea what to expect, but I feared the worst. I parked my truck on the side of McFarland BLVD less than 10 minutes after the tornado hit. Rescue personal wasn’t even on the scene just yet. The sound of store and car alarms and police sirens filled the air. The smell of mud, tree sap and natural gas was so strong, it would nearly choke you. The sight of people climbing out of a pile of wood and brick was a sight I’ll never forget. When I got to my house, Jonathan was standing in the front yard. I was so relieved when I saw he was ok and so were my neighbors. Some of my neighbors had injuries, but they were not life-threatening. Unfortunately, that was a different story only 200 yards away, where several people didn’t survive the storm. More than 50 people died in Tuscaloosa alone and over 250 people died in the state of Alabama, making it one of the most deadly tornado outbreaks in US and state history. Below is a picture of my house the day after the tornado hit.
This event changed my life, and I’ll never look at storms the same way. Severe weather will continue to happen at times, and that’s a part of life we will have to live with. I don’t think we will ever see an event nearly the magnitude of this one. It only takes one tornado, so please take every warning serious.
Above is a map across our area that shows the tornado tracks and ratings on April 27th. This map tells a big story!
Map Source: NWS Birmingham
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WVUA Chief Meteorologist