Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A personal note...

"A big weather day!" Growing up, that's how my mom, who understood my love of weather, described days like yesterday.

I was real busy at work yesterday but I flipped from my work computer to my personal laptop from time to time to get the latest from the SPC and to look at radars and satellites. As I was leaving work, things were starting to pop. I listened to WMC out of Memphis by patching my laptop through my car speakers. Then, around 5 p.m. CT, I was glad to get a call from team member Dew. We discussed the weather situation for a little while and I told her I'd call her back if something major happened.

It wasn't ten minutes later and there was a tornado emergency for Memphis, Tennessee. I called Dew back and we tracked the storms together via phone for the next 2-3 hours. It was not long before it became obvious that this was an event of historical proportions.

I was literally glued to my computer all night, to the point of not eating. There was a slight lull in the action after the tornado that threatened the metro Nashville area. I planned on taking a one hour nap, but only slept for about 30 minutes. I awakened just after midnight, watching ABC 33/40's James Spann and Jason Simpson's excellent coverage, watching the computer, and blogging.

I tracked one storm, out ahead of the main line, from Mississippi into Lamar, Fayette, and Walker counties. About two hours before it arrived here, I could tell from Gibson Ridge radar software that it was aimed right at Cullman County. I was on the phone with my ex-wife, who lives in a trailer, to get our boys to safety. At the same time, damage reports were coming in from Lawrence County for a storm that was taking aim on my parents' home. I called them in the middle of the night and fortunately my Mom answered after about 20 rings. She woke my Dad and they got in a safe place downstairs.

The storm that was aimed towards my location looked very impressive on radar, maxing out on velocity images in southern Fayette County. But, there were no damage reports for a long time. This may have been due to the storm traveling through rural areas. When damage reports started showing up on the Skywatcher IM conference, my concern level went up!

There is something about tornado sirens. Seconds before the tornado warning for my county showed up on the IM conference, sirens started blaring from across the street. As a guy who has heard plenty of sirens in my day, they still can send chills down my spine.

I decided to leave the house and drive south. I was hoping to get into a safer place than my home and put myself into a position to possibly spot severe weather to report to the NWS. On my way down US 31 through Cullman, I started to get a little scared. Did I leave soon enough to beat the storm? Or did I put myself right in its path? I decided to call fellow storm chaser/spotter, Rick Lipscomb. He was kind enough earlier in the evening to offer to assist me with radar help if needed. Well, it was needed! He sent me south to Hanceville. My fears rose as I experienced very strong winds out of the east just south of Cullman. I thought these were probably inflow winds into the rotation of the mesocyclone. I debated about pulling off the road and laying in a ditch or hightailing it to the south. Rick said hightail it to the south, so I did.

Looking out for my safety, Rick actually suggested that I go all the way to Garden City, but I stopped at Wallace State in Hanceville. That worked out fine. I headed north cautiously but saw no damage on the way home.

I saw lots of high winds (40 mph), torrential downpours, frequent lightning (including one hair-raising CTG strike close to my location), and minor flooding.

Thanks, Rick for your support on my (mis)adventure!

By the way, I did get 2 hours of sleep before I went into work a little late. I had already asked off, knowing ahead that this would probably happen. Jason Simpson did mention my report on ABC 33/40.

Thank God Cullman County had no major damage, injuries, or fatalities.


Dewdrop said...

Great summary of the event. Thanks a bunch for the link. Glad you are safe. February 5 & 6, 2008 will go down in history.

Mike Wilhelm said...

Thanks Dew...It was one of the worst outbreaks in man many years...