Friday, May 18, 2018

Anderson Hills F4 Tornado - 5/18/1995

Photo by Crandall McKey, via NWS Huntsville
On May 18, 1995, an F4 tornado struck Limestone and Madison counties in the Tennessee Valley of North Alabama.

To see storm survey data, photos, storm reports, maps, and other data from this event, vistit the NWS Huntsville page here: National Weather Service Huntsville Storm Survey

In 1995, I followed the Anderson Hills tornado through Limestone County. I was one of the first on the scene of a major disaster at a trailer park northeast of Athens. I remember carrying a man out on a door who was bleeding from his neck and chest as I left the scene.

The Anderson Hills Tornado struck Huntsville, Alabama on May 18, 1995, killing one person and causing extensive damage and devastation, including the destruction of the Anderson Hills subdivision. It was rated an F4 when it made a direct hit on the subdivision. The tornado touched down just northwest of Athens. It tracked from that point through eastern Limestone County, through Harvest, Meridianville, and New Market in northern Madison County, Alabama, and ended near Princeton in northwest Jackson County, Alabama. The strongest portion of the tornado's path was near Harvest in northwest Madison County around the Anderson Hills subdivision and the Huntsville Dragway, which is the reason it is usually referred to as the "Anderson Hills Tornado".

Birmingham NEXRAD, 5:32 p.m., one minute before touch down.
The tornado first touched down at 5:33 p.m. approximately three miles northwest of Athens, just east of Alabama Highway 99. The tornado moved across Alabama Highway 127, then across I-65 near the interchange with U.S. Highway 31. From there, the tornado strengthened as it continued east, crossing Alabama Highway 251, where it destroyed 13 mobile homes at the Oakdale Mobile Home Park. At this point of devastation, one person received major injuries from the tornado and died two days later; Chuck Dale, 30 years of age, was the one fatality of the tornado. Around this time, a Tornado Warning was issued for Madison County to give residents on the northwest side of the county an opportunity to take cover; tornado sirens were activated at 5:43 p.m., one minute after the warning was issued. Meanwhile, the tornado began to move slightly north of east, moving across Mooresville Road and crossing through the Copeland community near the intersection of Copeland Road and East Limestone Road. It continued to strengthen as it crossed over Limestone Creek and approached the Madison County line. Overall in Limestone County, 35 buildings were damaged or destroyed, and 26 mobile homes were destroyed. Around 9,500 customers lost electricity in the county, where damage was estimated to be $1.5 million.

Birmingham NEXRAD, 5:42 p.m., when Madison County Warning was issued
At 5:42 p.m., the NWS Huntsville issued the following warning:

WFUS1 KHSV 182241
TORHSV
ALC089-182345-
BULLETIN - EBS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
TORNADO WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE HUNTSVILLE AL
542 PM CDT THU MAY 18 1995

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN HUNTSVILLE HAS ISSUED A
TORNADO WARNING EFFECTIVE UNTIL 645 PM CDT
FOR PEOPLE IN THE FOLLOWING LOCATIONS...

IN NORTH ALABAMA

...MADISON COUNTY

AT 535 PM CDT RADAR AT THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE OFFICE IN HUNSVILLE
INDICATED A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM OVER WESTERN LIMESTONE COUNTY NEAR ELKMONT.

THIS STORM IS MOVING TO THE EAST AT AROUND 40 MILES PER HOUR.

...POSSIBLE FUNNEL CLOUDS SITED NORTH OF ATHENS IN LIMESTONE COUNTY.

The tornado crossed into Madison County around 5:50 p.m. on Love Branch Road, just north of the Yarborough Road intersection. It continued an east-northeasterly path across Carroll Road, Old Railroad Bed Road, and Wall Triana Highway, crossing just south of Harvest Elementary School. At 5:52 p.m., Madison County Fire dispatch reported that the tornado was on the ground near Harvest. It crossed Fords Chapel Road before taking a direct hit on the Anderson Hills subdivision along Alabama Highway 53. At this point, the tornado was at F4 intensity and the subsequent survey would also reveal evidence of it having multiple vortices. A total of 39 well-constructed houses in the subdivision sustained major damage, and 21 were destroyed. The Piggly Wiggly along Highway 53 also received damage. At 5:54 p.m., the Madison County Sheriff's Department confirmed the tornado had crossed Old Railroad Bed Road and Alabama Highway 53. As a result of these reports, tornado sirens were reactivated in Madison County one minute later. The tornado continued east-northeast making a glancing blow to the Huntsville Dragway before crossing Quarter Mountain Road and Bollweevil Lane on the northern face of Quarter Mountain. Next it crossed Hammond Lane (where is caused major damage to a few two story brick homes), Beaver Dam Road, Beaverdam Creek, and Pulaski Pike. It moved over Beaverdam Creek a second time at Mount Lebanon Road as it moved into the Meridianville area, then across Patterson Lane. Shortly after 6:00 p.m., the tornado crossed U.S. Highway 231/431 at Steger Curve - around Brier Fork bridge. Here, substantial damage was done to a cotton gin and a large farm house was spun off its foundation.

Video showing regional radar loop:



WHNT News 19 Huntsville report on how one family survived:



Sources:
NWS Huntsville
WHNT News 19
Wikipedia
First-hand account

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

May Day Tornado Outbreak - 5/1/1953

1953 was a bad year for killer tornadoes in the United States and Alabama was not immune. The nationwide death toll in 1953 was 519 and in Alabama it was 24. Tornadoes killed one Alabamian on February 20, 1953 and fourteen on April 18, 1953.  The spring tornado season was not over, though, and nine were killed and seventeen injured in the state on Friday May 1, 1953.


May 2, 1953 Florence Times

The May 1, 1953 outbreak included two tornadoes which were considered to be F4 intensity. Officially there were four documented tornadoes in the state that day.  But without the ability to detect and confirm smaller tornadoes especially in rural areas that we have today, it would not be surprising if there were additional tornadoes which were not documented. 

Map of 5/1/1953 Tornadoes

Tornado #1 - Chilton County F2 - 5:15 p.m.
This tornado was on the ground for 1 1/2 miles and was about 100 yards wide in the Minooka community, five miles south of Calera and six miles north of Jemison, in northern Chilton County.  One person was injured, five homes were damaged, and six barns were destroyed.  Fortunately there were no fatalities.

According to the May 2, 1953 Florence (Alabama) Times, "Two awed Highway Patrol officers saw a tornado appear near Calera, 33 miles south of Birmingham. 'We watched it form and begin to pick things up, related W.L. Allen. When it got too close to us, we ran like hell.'  A negro mother and child were injured and four or five homes were leveled in this section before the raging winds bounded toward the east....Old highway 31 south of Calera was blocked for a time by fallen trees and power lines. Traffic was halted until the road could be cleared."  


Tornado #2 - Clay County F4 - 7:30 p.m.
This tornado was on the ground for 12.1 miles and was 440 yards wide in the Millerville-Lineville area. Seven people died and twelve were injured in this storm.  According to the NWS Birmingham tornado database, 19 homes were destroyed, 50 homes were damaged, 36 other buildings were destroyed, and 57 other buildings were damaged. "Numerous chickens were killed and stripped of their feathers," according to the NWS report. 


A user on the Tornado History Project website made this comment about the tornado, "Although it occurred three years before my birth, I often heard my parents speak of this storm. Late in the evening at dark while frying fish with another couple, my mother (who was pregnant with my older brother) heard an all too familiar roar much like she heard on March 21, 1932 as her home was destroyed in Paint Rock, Alabama. The others insisted that it was a train, but Mom insisted that it was a tornado. "Once you hear that sound, you never forget it." They stepped outside to look around and the funnel was less that two blocks away. Dad described it as a slender wedge with much debris aloft, the base of the funnel gyrating in a looping fashion. They jumped into the car to outrun it, but noticed it was moving away from them. Their perspective would have been on State Highway 49 just south of Lineville but north of the tornado's path. Dad was the local dentist and spent that night at the hospital in nearby Ashland helping treat victims of the storm. I am very thankful they didn't pursue outrunning the tornado, especially at dark! Strangly, this storm occurred at the same time as the Paint Rock Tornado."

According to the May 2, 1953 Florence (Alabama) Times, "The storm smashed upon a cluster of homes near Ashland just as night fell, killing seven persons in three family groups. The blasting winds and accompanying lightning storm knocked out all electric power at Ashland. The first injured brought to the tiny Clay County Hospital were treated by candlelight....the Clay County Hospital reported treating 10 persons."


Tornado #3 - Jefferson County F1 - 8:00 p.m.
This small tornado briefly touched down in Trussville and was only on the ground for 1/10th of a mile and was reportedly only 10 yards wide.  No one was injured or killed, but according to the NWS tornado database five homes and one other building were destroyed and one other building was damaged.

Tornado #4 - Choctaw County F4 - 8:00 p.m.
On the ground for 10 miles and 200 yards wide, this tornado was responsible for the deaths of two people and injuries to three others in the Riderwood, Lisman, and Yantley communities.  According to the NWS Birmingham, two homes were "disintegrated" at Yantley and the debris was thrown over a half mile.

Sources:

NWS Birmingham - Alabama Tornado Database - 1953
"The Deadly Tornado Year of 1953" - Alabamawx.com, by Bill Murray
Tornado History Project
Florence Times - May 2, 1953

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Friday, April 27, 2018

Memories of April 27, 2011 – Mississippi & Alabama Storm Chase Account


5:10 p.m. 4/27/11, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Memories of April 27, 2011 – My Storm Chase Account

* * * REPOSTING ON 7TH ANNIVERSARY * * *

This is a personal account of my experiences as a storm chaser on April 26 and 27, 2011 in Mississippi and Alabama. This is just my story, as best as I can tell it. Over time, as information becomes available and my memories are triggered, I will periodically update this post with additional narrative, links, photos, or video.
I partially regret that I have waited eight months to compose a synopsis of my activities during the historic April 27, 2011 Super Outbreak of Tornadoes. The main reason we chase is to provide a public service by assisting in the warning process. My partner, John Brown and I have been Skywatchers for ABC 33/40 in Birmingham for many years. James Spann, Jason Simpson, Brian Peters, and Ashley Brand have assembled a great system of communicating with and training storm spotters for Central Alabama. It has been an honor to serve with this group for several years. John, Rick Lipscomb and I have spoken about our chase among ourselves and with friends, and we have all appeared on various local and national media outlets. Twenty four hours after the Tuscaloosa tornado, I spoke live by phone with KTEN TV in Texas. My most extensive interview was live on WHNT Channel 19 a few mornings later with Meteorologist Ben Smith. This is a shorter version of the interview as seen on the evening news. John was interviewed by ABC News Nightline and other media outlets. We told our story on the Weatherbrains podcast. In these interviews we told the story, but eight months later, I feel ready to relive the day in detail and put my memories in writing. I know John and Rick agree that it was a day that we will never forget and it will haunt us the rest of our lives. I have also spoken about the day on a few occasions with close friends, especially some of my closer friends in the weather community. Frankly, like others who witnessed the tragedy unfold, I have found it easier to spend the last eight months avoiding the subject. I usually post about my chase accounts immediately on this blog, but to this day I have said very little about my experiences on April 27. Witnessing the Tuscaloosa tornado was a shocking experience. I remember the next day my friend and fellow chaser, Jennifer New, asked how I was doing emotionally. I thought I was doing pretty well, but the depth and the shock of the tragedy really started hitting home in the coming days. She has encouraged me to tell the story. I think it is a story worth telling, and if I wait too long I will begin to forget details.

The story of my April 27, 2011 storm chase actually began eight days earlier. I pay close attention to forecast models, especially during the primary severe weather season. I also pay close attention to forecasters who look at the models closely who are much more knowledgeable than I. As early as Tuesday April 19, ABC 33/40 Chief Meteorologist James Spann mentioned in his morning “Weather Xtreme” video (this is his map discussion that he usually produces twice a day) that severe weather was a possibility on the 27th. By the next morning, the 20th, James said it could be a “significant severe weather outbreak”. On Friday April 22, James was mentioning the possibility of tornadoes, as was the National Weather Service Birmingham in their Hazardous Weather Outlook. Models were quite consistent in portraying a setup favorable for tornadoes as many as five days in advance. I asked to be off work on Friday the 22nd. As April 27 approached, confidence continued to increase that there would be multiple waves of severe weather, including the possibility of long-tracked supercells. By Monday the NWS Birmingham was referring to the storm system as “dangerous” and predicted the possibility of “strong, long-track tornadoes”. I later wrote an extensive blog post showing details of how local media and NWS offices forecasted this event.

With all of these ominous forecasts and the staggering severe weather indices that models were showing, Wednesday the 27th was obviously a day that I wanted to be out chasing. I was getting nervous, though, because I still had not been approved for leave at work. I finally received approval at 3:30 Tuesday April 26. I immediately texted my partner John Brown and we started formulating plans. He and I exchanged several texts and calls that evening. I also was contacted by my friend Rick Lipscomb, an Alabama native, who was going to drive up from South Georgia and tandem chase with John and I. The idea of the system coming in the form of two or three waves was still being shown by the models late Tuesday afternoon. By 4 p.m. portions of North Mississippi were placed in a "High Risk" area by the Storm Prediction Center. After leaving work, I immediately filled my vehicle with gasoline, drove home, studied every model and forecast I could look at, and called John and Rick.

The three of us decided to begin the chase that night. We decided to meet in Cullman around 11 p.m. at the Days Inn parking lot on the US 278 exit on Interstate 65. I drove from Huntsville and got there at 11:10 and caught about an hour of sleep in my vehicle while I waited for John to arive from Birmingham and Rick to arrive from Georgia. After Rick and John arrived just after Midnight we discussed our plan further. We didn’t necessarily expect to see a whole lot at night but we wanted to be positioned in the best possible location for the main events on the 27th. We decided to head west on US Highway 278. Around 1:15 a.m. the Storm Prediction Center issued a "High Risk" for North Alabama and surrounding areas. We saw our first storm in Hamilton, Alabama around 3:30 a.m. It was a strong thunderstorm with intense lightning and gusty winds. Jennifer Watson of WVTA Tupelo reported a severe thunderstorm warning for Lamar and Marion counties in Alabama until 4:30 a.m. with the possibility of winds of 70 mph. As we headed toward Tupelo on US 78, we encountered another storm between Hamilton and the Alabama State line. The lightning was almost constant between 3:45 and 4 a.m. These were the first of countless storms we would witness over the next 36 hours.

When we got to Tupelo we pulled into a Waffle House parking lot. I studied ongoing weather data as well as forecasts, and tried (mostly unsucessfully) to take a brief nap. Storms continued to fire that morning. Not long after breakfast, Pontotoc County, northwest of Tupelo, was placed under a tornado warning. At 9:15 a.m. there was a brief tornado at Esperanza, Mississippi, with minor damage. The clouds were impressive and very picturesque.


9:29 a.m., northwest of Tupelo, Mississippi

We saw what might have been a wall cloud, but nothing definite. As with all of the storms we had seen, the winds were very gusty and the lightning was intense. I recorded some video of the skies when we ate at Waffle House, along with the storm west of Tupelo on US 78 from 9:12 and 9:30. The video includes my discussion with Greg Nordstrom, Instructor of Meteorology at Mississippi State who is also a phenomenal storm chaser. He expressed grave concern about the nature of the environment, the type of supercells that we might see during the afternoon, and the danger it would pose to the public and also to any inexperienced chasers who might be out driving.

While we were in North Mississippi during the morning we were hearing about severe storms with numerous damage reports in Alabama counties such as Marion, Pickens, Fayette, Tuscaloosa, Walker, Jefferson, and Shelby. We later learned that the damage was more extensive than initially reported and that some of the damage was produced by tornadoes. After the storm we witnessed northwest of Tupelo, the temperature dropped into the 50’s in northeast Mississippi. We made the decision to drive southeast into West Alabama where the air was more unstable.

As we drove south through Marion, Fayette and northern Tuscaloosa counties that morning we began to realize that the morning round of storms produced a great deal of damage to the communications infrastructure. This would prove to be a significant problem later in the day as it hindered people from receiving warnings. Power, cell phone, and internet service was out due to the extensive damage produced by the morning severe weather events. John, Rick, and I were handicapped for several hours without access to much in the way of weather data. We pulled up to a gas station and couldn't purchase gasoline because they were out of power and the credit card machines were down. Our instincts told us that supercell storms that afternoon would move through the I 20-59 corridor, but now we had added reason to chase in that area. We did not want to be stuck in Fayette, Marion, or Walker counties without data or cell phone service. For quite some time, John and I were chasing "old school", relying on nothing but NOAA Weather Radio, scanner, and occasional reports on commercial radio. Driving south through northern Tuscaloosa County we saw numerous trees down from the morning storms on Highway 171. I received a call from my friend Craig Woodham. He and his wife were considering driving home to Tuscaloosa from Mobile that afternoon. I advised against it. Craig told me that a family we know, Reginald and Danielle Eppes, who live in Coaling in eastern Tuscaloosa County, had apparently been in a tornado that morning at their home. You can listen to their miraculous story on National Public Radio, here. Here is another story on them in the UK's Daily Mail. Craig didn't know all of the details at the time, but that was a sad precursor of things to come for the Tuscaloosa area.

Jim Stefkovich, Meteorologist-in-Charge of the NWS Birmingham gave a chilling and accurate prediction of what to expect after the morning storms passed, live on 100 WAPI's Matt Murphy Show late in the morning of April 27.

John, Rick, and I stopped at the Burger King in Northport, across the Black Warrior River from Tuscaloosa just after Noon. The temperature was 20-25 degrees warmer than what we experienced near Tupelo. It was now up to the lower 80’s here! The air was very humid and turbulent. As we ate at Burger King, John Brown uttered these words, “Someone is going to die today. They just don’t know it yet.” Those words hit hard but rang true to Rick and I. One thing I like about John and Rick is they take the public service aspect of chasing very seriously. It is our goal that we can play a part in the warning process so that loss of life can be prevented. John’s words were sobering, and sadly, all too true.

We stayed in Northport for nearly two hours, watching the satellite, radar, and mesoscale analysis page on the SPC site very closely. The severe weather parameters were off the chart! We felt like we were in the prime location, but all of North and Central Alabama was in danger. Finally, just before 2:00 p.m., we decided to head west towards Pickens County, near the Alabama/Mississippi border, west of Tuscaloosa. Storms were exploding in Mississippi.

By 3:30 we were on a tornado-warned storm in Pickens County. This was the scariest part of the chase. John, Rick, and I debated as to what we needed to do to be safe. We were not really in the safest place relative to the storm. We were on the north side of Pickensville as the tornado formed to our east. After it formed and we drove east to follow it, we ran into tree and power lines in the road. This storm eventually produced EF4 damage in Cordova in Walker County. This is my video of the formation of this tornado, along with the location it touched down.

When we came up on the initial damage (trees down on the road), our chase came to a major crossroads. Should we try to follow this storm or try to intercept a storm entering Greene County that was on a course for Tuscaloosa? John suggested hightailing it to Tuscaloosa. I was not confident that we could make it to Tuscaloosa ahead of the storm. But seeing that we had little alternative and considering that we always had the option of pulling back to be safe, I agreed with John. It was about 3:35 p.m. when we made the decision to go to Tuscaloosa. It was around this time that we were seeing ABC 33/40 cover a tornado live on towercam in Cullman. I tried calling my family there to make sure they were safe.

John was driving his truck. Rick was following us in his truck. We made our way to US Highway 82. This thoroughfare brings you into Tuscaloosa County from the west. We passed through the communities of Buhl and Coker, west of Northport. I was still unsure if we were far enough ahead of the storm to have time to get south in front of it. To make matters worse, Rick was behind us, and we didn't know how far. I told John we needed to hustle south over the Black Warrior River and get down I-359 as soon as we could. As we crossed the river, I looked west out of the passenger window. I saw an amazing display of cloud to ground lightning due west of Tuscaloosa. Bolts of lightning were striking in what appeared to be the same location repeatedly. Comparing what I was seeing to our Gibson Ridge Radar software, the lightning was striking out of the rain free base immediately ahead of what was later confirmed to be the tornado. It was a hectic time. We were having to navigate and keep track of the storm on radar and in the sky. John's GPS link to the radar software was a great tool in helping us get in a safe place relative to the storm. But it was not the only thing. Years of spotter training and a knowledge of the geography of the area served us well. We could not see the tornado at this point. We knew by now we were safely ahead of the storm but we were concerned about Rick. If he followed the same route, we wondered if he would run into the tornado. Frustratingly, I could not reach him by phone.

At this point, emotions and adrenaline were off the charts. I had a sense that this was going to be a major tornado by the time it approached Tuscaloosa. We then heard a report on ABC 33/40 that Meteorologist John Oldshue had streamed live video of a tornado leaving Greene County and entering Tuscaloosa County. Around this same time, Dr. Tim Coleman and Brian Peters were witnessing and reporting a large tornado on Interstate 22 in Walker County. I suggested to John that we go east on I 59-20 and pull off the interstate at the McFarland Boulevard Exit (U.S. Highway 82). We were on the ramp so in addition to having a great view of the sky we also had a very important escape route to the south or the east if we needed it.

After we pulled off, we grabbed our cameras and video cameras. While filming, I continued to try to reach Rick. I finally reached him by phone. He was seeing the tornado and seemed to be safe before I lost the connection again. Here is his video. As I said in my video, we really were in the perfect spot. We saw the tornado gradually appear on the horizon. As it did, within seconds, it appeared massive as it approached Tuscaloosa. John managed to report this on the ABC 33/40 Skywatcher chat. This tornadic storm in Tuscaloosa was streamed live on Ustream from 4:40 until 5:20. ABC 33/40's James Spann and Jason Simson covered the storm live as did The Weather Channel's Greg Forbes.

Words cannot express what went through my mind as I witnessed this beast approach a town I love and lived in for eight years. As it approached I imagined someone was about to be killed while he walked to his car after paying for his gas. I imagined a little old lady who might lose her life as she walked out of the grocery store. My mind was racing with thoughts of people being unaware of the danger headed their way. I felt helpless! It was too late to even send another report to help Tuscaloosa residents. All I could do was pray!

My video:



John's video:



If you watch my video, you will hear me say repeatedly, "Jesus help these people," or "Jesus help these people be safe." I have been amazed at the amount negative response to this on YouTube. There were so many hateful, derogatory, obscene, mean, and attacking comments about the fact that I prayed. I had many people ask that I turn the comments off on the video because some were so vile. I thought about it but I think it reflects the reality of this world and we should let people voice their opinions. Also, about the video, I took it down from YouTube for several days. It seems it was being stolen by certain media outlets and I was advised to bring it down until it could be protected. Thanks to Kendra Reed with KDR Media for help with this. It was a shame because John helped me get it online at his house within two hours of the tornado and it garnered a lot of interest. Not that it matters in the big scheme of things, but it would have had hundreds of thousands of more views.

John and I followed the tornado up 20/59 from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham. Some have asked why we didn't try to drive into Tuscaloosa to help assist victims. It isn't that we were unwilling to do something to help, but there was no way we could have been in a position to get to where help was needed. Back in 1995 I helped rescuse a tornado victim, but it was a rare situation where I just happened to have easy access. Once the authorities arrived I was no longer needed. We stopped near Bessemer where John shot some video and I took some still photographs. John and I noticed that the storm became more rain-wrapped as it approached Jefferson County. We saw the storm as it was tearing up places like Concord to our north.



The next day John and I witnessed the destruction at Concord. John was being interviewed by ABC News Nightline. One of my best friends, Tom Windsor, lived in Concord for years. They were also affected by the April 8, 1998 F5 tornado. The destruction we witnessed the next day was unbelievable.


4/28/11 7:28 p.m. Concord, Alabama

After seeing the damage in Concord on April 28, I thought there was a lot of high end EF4 damage. There were a lot of bare slab foundations. It was very sad to witness. Four or five people (at least) died in that little neighborhood. If that was the only community affected in the state it would have been on the national news. Sadly, it was only a small fraction of the horror our state experienced. I hope I never see anything like this again. There was warning. But there was nothing these people could do to be safe from an EF4 tornado unless they had access to an underground shelter. Our minds will never grasp the magnitude of this tragedy. When I witnessed first hand the kindnesses given to those affected in the wake of the storms, I am prouder than ever to be an Alabamian.

Back to the chase. As we approached Birmingham, John asked me if I minded ending the chase. He was concerned about his family and wanted to check on them. Of course I told him that was a "no-brainer". As we approached his home in the Trussville area, we were very close to the area of circulation. We didn't know it at the time, but the tornado temporarily "lifted" just east of Fultondale. John and I tried to take shelter in a gas station but the employees had locked the door and would not let us in. We drove to John's house. His family was ok. I was finally able to get in touch and find out that my sons in Cullman were ok. By this point in the day cell phone service was becoming spotty in many areas. We uploaded my video and sent reports to ABC 33/40.

My vehicle was still in Cullman. John had to drive me back to Cullman. It was after dark and we began to wonder if the Cullman tornado hit the area where my vehicle was parked. The magnitude of the storm event was such that we had no idea, even by this hour, how many parts of the state were devastated. Everything was completely dark north of Birmingham. The North Alabama tornadoes had destroyed the power infrastructure. After we found my vehicle, surrounded by utility trucks, I drove home to Huntsville. With no power and no moonlight it was surreal driving home. The normal glow in the sky over Decatur, Madison, and Huntsville was missing. As I drove through Huntsville I only saw lights at the hospital and police station, which were running on generator power. As I pulled in my driveway, my garage door opener didn't work (of course), and as I opened the car door I heard the roar of generators in the neighborhood. I used the light of my Droid phone to get me to the back door of the house. Then I looked for candles and flashlights and a radio. I could tell from the radio that things were worse up in North Alabama than I realized.

Thus ended a very long and emotional day......

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Here are some of other links of interest. I will be adding to this list over time.

The May 3, 2011 Weatherbrains, Episode 275, was a two hour special. Regulars James Spann, Bill Murray, Dr. Tim Coleman, and Kevin Selle were joined by John Oldshue, John Brown, and Mike Wilhelm to simply share their thoughts on the horrible April 27, 2011 tornado outbreak that has killed over 300 people across the Deep South and injured thousands more.

Dr. Jon Nese of Penn State University describes the forecasting of the tornado outbreak as well as the warning process in his weekly program, Wxyz (Weather Whys) which airs on Pennsylvania Public TV. In September 2011 I had the pleasure of visiting Dr. Nese as he gave me, Bill Murray, Ben Smith and other guests from Alabama a tour of the PSU Meteorology Department. Penn State people did a lot to reach out and help Alabamians.

WHNT 19's Michelle Stark tells the story of this historic tragedy through YouTube videos.

WSFA Montgomery's Rich Thomas showed radar history of the Tuscaloosa-Jefferson tornado.

John Brown raised money for victims selling We Are Alabama tee shirts.

ESPN visited Tuscaloosa and did a special story on the tornado recovery in May. My video was used in that story.

James Spann wrote a famous blog post about the warning process that was even covered by the media in the UK.

NOAA movie showing the rapid scan infrared imagery from the GOES-East weather satellite from April 26-28, 2011.

Miraculous story of survival and recovery of one Alabama student.

NWS Meteorologists "detective work" in performing numerous, massive storm surveys.

Crazy video someone took inside the Fultondale tornado.

Birmingham NWS Meteorologist in Charge Jim Stefkovich describes the event.

...

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Severe Hail Event - 4/25/2003

NWS Birmingham Map of Severe Hail Event - 4/25/2003
 
Severe weather, especially in the form of large hail, affected much of Central Alabama Friday April 25, 2003. Fortunately there were no injuries nor fatalities reported with this event, but property damage was significant.  At least four supercells were responsible for this severe weather event.

This event included three confirmed tornadoes:

Pickens County: An F1 tornado, a landspout (a tornado forming under an updraft in a thunderstorm), touched down in the southwestern Pickens County communities of Dancy and Cochrane, destroying one site-built home, a mobile home, and downing trees at 10:57 a.m.

Greene-Hale: An F0 tornado touched down near the Greene County Power Plant on the Greene-Hale county line and blew down trees, destroyed a mobile home, and damaged a church at 1:30 p.m.

Elmore County: An F0 tornado touched down northwest of Tallassee, blew down trees, and caused some roof damage to homes along its .6 mile path.

The biggest story of this severe weather event was not the tornadoes; it was the hail!  There were at least 50 reports of severe hail (in 2003 the criteria for severe hail was 3/4" or greater. That changed to 1" or greater in 2010).  Some of the largest hail in Alabama history fell in these storms and hail reports were widespread.  There were 22 reports of golf ball-size hail (1 3/4") or larger in 15 different counties.  Counties affected by golf ball-size or larger hail included: Bibb, Perry, Chilton, Autauga, Macon, Lee, Russell, Greene, Hale, Elmore, Dallas, Montgomery, Cherokee, Marengo, and DeKalb counties.

Photo via NWS Birmingham by Chris Howard

Baseball-size hail (2 3/4") or larger fell in four counties: Chilton, Macon, Lee, Elmore, and Montgomery.  The largest hail that fell was softball-size (4 1/2").  This fell first in Bibb County from just south of the town of Brent to the Randolph, Pondville, and Lawley communities between 12:50 and 1:53 p.m.  Several locations reported hail as deep as one foot in Bibb County!  Numerous automobiles and homes were damaged.  Funnel clouds were also reported with this supercell as it moved across Bibb County. Softball size hail also fell in Autauga County between 2:55 p.m. and 3:46 p.m.

Sources:
National Weather Service Birmingham Storm Survey
NOAA Storm Data publication, April 2003

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Alabama Heavy Snow - February 15, 1958


Credit: NOAA

One of the heaviest snows in Alabama history occurred on February 15,1958. Huntsville received 8.0" of snow, which was the highest February snow total on record until 8.1" was recorded on February 25, 2015.

This snow event was caused by a strong low in the Southeast combined with a strong upper level trough. This Southeastern low later evolved into a coastal low. This coastal low brought over 30" of snow to the Catskills and western New England.

February 1958 snowfall accumulation compared to average. Credit: Storm Data

Other snowfall totals reported in Alabama on February 15, 1958 included:

16.0" in Hayleyville in Winston (per Alabama State Climatologist Arthur Long in a 1964 report)

7.0" in Leesburg in Cherokee County (per NOAA National Center for Environmental Information)

5.0" Jacksonville in Calhoun County (NWS Birmingham)

2.0" in Columbia in Houston County (per NOAA National Center for Environmental Information)


According to Bill Murray with Alabamawx.com, "The northwest corner of Alabama was blanketed with 3-6 inches of snow. Six to eight inches fell in Decatur. As often is the case around these parts, snowfall amounts varied over a short distance. While there was two inches on the ground in Bessemer, there was none in Tuscaloosa. At the Birmingham Municipal Airport, A Delta Airlines DC-7 slid off the runway on Saturday morning and buried itself nose deep in slush and mud when the nosewheel broke. None of the 43 passengers were injured."

Mike Wilhelm

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

North Alabama Ice Storm February 1-2, 1985

View of Huntsville from Bankhead Parkway on Monte Sano

Huntsville Times February 2, 1985

The worst ice storm in decades in North Alabama, if not the worst in recorded history, began in Northwest Alabama during the early morning hours Friday February 1, 1985.  It began as a mix of freezing rain and sleet in Lauderdale County. By the time it finally ended early Saturday February 2, 11 inches of sleet had accumulated in Florence and the entire North Alabama region was covered in heavy ice.

Maysville Road in Northeast Huntsville
On February 1, 1985 the NWS Huntsville issued a Special Weather Statement saying, “A damaging ice storm is ahead for NW Alabama. The National Weather Service emphasizes that this will be an ice storm of damaging proportions. There will be potential major damage to trees and utility lines and numerous highways will become impassable. There will likely be numerous and extended power outages. Early this morning, power lines were already falling in Southern Lawrence County and on Monte Sano Mountain in Huntsville.” This prediction was spot on. The video below is an actual recording from the Huntsville NOAA Weather Radio From the NWS Huntsville.



Sleet and snow fell in northwestern parts of the state, accumulating to 11 inches. All roads were closed in Florence. In Huntsville, the precipitation was mostly freezing rain. It was by far the worst ice storm I’ve ever seen. In Northeast Huntsville, power was out for five days due to the heavy freezing rain and resulting damage to power lines.

Near East Huntsville Baptist Church on Maysville Road.
West and southwest of Huntsville, sleet piled up in amazing amounts. This ice storm came after one of the biggest cold snaps of all time when the temperature dropped to -11F in Huntsville on January 21, 1985. The streets were like ice skating rinks. When the sun came out, it melted the very top layer, making it impossible to even walk. I literally had to crawl part of the way to our neighbor’s house it was so slick. We were very fortunate to have a wood burning stove. The video below is my description of what I witnessed during the storm.



Cullman roads iced over by noon Friday and that evening, 600 motorists were stranded between Birmingham and Cullman on I-65, forcing travellers to spend the night in shelters.. Hundreds of traffic accidents were reported across North Alabama.Roofs collapsed on three businesses in the Florence area and numerous carports and awnings fell victim to the weight of the sleet and snow. For the first time in recorded history, roads were closed in the Florence area. Most Huntsville television stations were off the air. The video below contains local radio coverage of the historic ice storm. Stations include: WBHP 1230 AM, WAAY 1550 AM, WZYP 104.3 FM, and Q104 FM.



Additional photos I took during the ice storm in Huntsville, Alabama:

Bankhead Parkway, Monte Sano

Wooddale Drive, NE Huntsville

Near Chapman School, NE Huntsville

Oak Park, NE Huntsville

Oakwood Avenue, NE Huntsville
Here is the NOAA Storm Data publication write-up about the event from February 1985:

 
 


Monday, January 29, 2018

Coldest Temperature Recorded in Alabama - 1/30/1966

January 1966 was one of the coldest months in Alabama history and the last week of January 1966 was particularly brutal with temperatures 18-21 degrees below average. The NOAA Monthly Weather Review shows that on the map below.

January 1966 NOAA Monthly Weather Review
This cold air was attributed to a strong ridge in the Northwest United States, extending to Alaska. This, in conjunction with a trough in the eastern half of the U.S., forced a series of shots of polar air southward. Adding to the mix was an unusual amount of snow cover.  On the 29th, 6-11" of snow was on the ground across North Alabama.  This set the stage for some all time records to be in jeopardy, including the all-time coldest temperature recorded in Alabama.


NOAA Climatological Data, January 1966
Alabamians awakened to the following low temperatures on the morning of January 30th:

-27F in New Market (Madison County) ***
-24F in Russellville (Franklin County)
-19F in Belle Mina (Limestone County)
-19 in Haleyville (Winston County)
-19F in Hamilton (Marion County)
-17F in Athens (Limestone County)
-17F in Haleyville (Marion County)
-14F in Double Springs (Winston County)
-14F in Madison (Madison County)
-12F at Redstone Arsenal (Madison County)
-11F in Vernon (Lamar County)
-11F in Valley Head (DeKalb County)
-11F in Huntsville (Madison County)
-10F in Moulton (Lawrence County)
-9F at Sand Mountain Substation (DeKalb County)
-9F in Scottsboro (Jackson County)
-8F in Red Bay (Franklin County)
-8F in Florence (Lauderdale County)
-7F in Bridgeport (Jackson County)
-6F in Muscle Shoals (Colbert County)
-6F in Albertville (Marshall County)
-5F in Fayette (Fayette County)
-5F in Waterloo (Lauderdale County)
-5F in Pinson (Jefferson County)
-5F at Saint Bernard (Cullman County)
-4F in Falkville (Morgan County)
-4F in Guntersville (Marshall County)
-4F in Oneonta (Blount County)
-4F in Birmingham (Jefferson County)
-4F in Heflin (Cleburne County)
-3F in Calera (Shelby County)
-3F in Decatur (Morgan County)
-2F in Bessemer (Jefferson County)
-2F in Gadsden (Etowah County)
-2F in Lafayette (Chambers County)
-2F in Rockford (Coosa County)
-2F in Pell City in St. Clair County)
-2F at Bankhead Lock and Dam (Tuscaloosa County)
-1F in Talladega (Talladega County)
-1F in Alexander City (Tallapoosa County)
0F in Clanton (Chilton County)
0F in Anniston (Calhoun County)
0F in Auburn (Lee County)
1F in Sylacauga (Talladega County)
1F in Childersburg (Talladega County)
1F in Thorsby (Chilton County)
2F in Ashland (Clay County)
2F in Aliceville (Pickens County)
2F in Centreville (Bibb County)
2F in Prattville (Autauga County)
3F in Marion Junction (Dallas County)
3F in Eufaula (Barbour County)
4F in Tuskegee (Macon County)
4F in Union Springs (Bullock County)
5F in Montgomery (Montgomery County)
4F in Clayton (Barbour County)
4F in Highland Home (Crenshaw County)
4F in Ozark (Dale County)
4F in Troy (Pike County)
5F in Selma (Dallas County)
5F in Hayneville (Lowndes County)
5F in Greenville (Butler County)
6F in Whatley (Clarke County)
6F in Thomasville (Clarke County)
6F in Tuscaloosa (Tuscaloosa County)
6F in Demopolis (Marengo County)
6F in Livingston (Sumter County)
6F in Brantley (Crenshaw County)
6F in Camden (Wilcox County)
6F in Enterprise (Coffee County)
6F in Frisco city (Monroe County)
7F in Natchez (Monroe County)
7F in Headland (Henry County)
7F in Andalusia (Covington County)
7F in Chatom (Washington County)
8F in Atmore (Escambia County)
8F in Gilbertown (Choctaw County)
9F in Geneva (Geneva County)
9F in Evergreen (Conecuh County)
9F in Brewton (Escambia County)
9F in Fairhope (Baldwin County)
9F in Bay Minette (Baldwin County)
10F in Dothan (Houston County)
10F in Robertsdale (Baldwin)
11F in Coden (Mobile County)
13F in Mobile (Mobile County)
14F at Fort Morgan (Baldwin County)

At the time it was reported that the coldest temperature was -24F in Russellville, but that was in error. It was the only time I have ever heard that an Alabama community reported the coldest temperature in the United States.  Alabama State Climatologist Dr. John Christy interviewed the observer who reported the -27F reading in New Market in 1988.  She explained why the original report of -17F was changed to -27F.

*** "Ms. Lucille Hereford of New Market in Madison County was town postmistress and served as the volunteer weather observer. Every morning she faithfully checked the high and low temperature, and the precipitation. I interviewed Ms. Hereford by phone in 1988 to get her story. She remembered that the sun was out on the morning of Jan. 30, 1966, and the ground was covered with 8" of new snow (Huntsville measured 7.3"). It was terribly cold. She walked out to the instrument shelter and opened the door. She couldn’t believe what she saw so she called an acquaintance who happened to be trudging by and asked him to read the little indicator that rested at the coldest temperature since it was reset the day before. He said it looked like -28° Fahrenheit, but she thought it was closer to "only" 27 below. Since she was the official reader, the observation was reported as -27° F – Alabama’s coldest ever recorded temperature. The official story has a twist: For some reason the value was officially recorded as -17° that morning, not -27°. That was a bit warmer than the -24° F reported at Russellville that day."
 
According to NOAA Storm Data for January 1966, the snow and record cold of January 29-31, 1966 was responsible for 10 deaths, five injuries, and extensive damage to utility lines, water pumps, water lines, and automobiles. There was an extensive loss in poultry production. 

Special Weather Summary by State Climatologist C.C. Wooden

Alabama has had a handful of other extreme cold waves in 1899, 1940, and 1985, but the extreme temperatures in isolated pockets of North Alabama were the coldest ever recorded in this state.
 
Sources:
 
NOAA Monthly Weather Review January 1966 
NOAA Storm Data 1966
Alabama Climate Report December 2010 Dr. John Christy
Climatological Data, January 1966, NOAA, Environmental Data Service
 
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