April 27, 2011. In the weather world, this will be a date remembered for decades and possibly centuries. The worst tornado outbreak to hit the southeast occurred, starting on a Wednesday morning, and lasting through the overnight hours. In the Carolinas and Georgia we knew there could be some bad weather, but the bulls eye for the strongest storms was in Alabama. The Storm Prediction Center issued a high risk for areas around Birmingham and Huntsville, AL. This weather event was forecasted several days ahead of time, meteorologists were wall to wall in severe storm coverage and the entire nation was watching Alabama on that Wednesday in April. However, over 300 people still died because of the massive and unrelenting tornadoes.
I worked on a story this week, which will air tonight at 10, about the local impact of that outbreak on us and the lessons we all learned from it. Essentially, this outbreak taught us how important social media and blogs are to the severe storm coverage process! Also, hopefully many of you learned how important it is to take cover when a tornado warning is issued for your county. One day we will have a large, destructive tornado here in the Upstate, mountains or northeast GA, and on that day we'll be ready to warn you and you need to be ready to take action! On April 27, 2011, an EF3 tornado with winds over 165 mph did affect our area. It ripped through Lake Burton in Rabun county. One person was killed and several were injured.
On the morning of April 27, I remember talking to my husband and saying that I had a bad feeling about the day ahead. I watched the storms move through Alabama that evening, while my husband was calling home to Sylacauga, AL to make sure everyone was OK. Alex and Andy were set to come in and work with me during the wee hours of the overnight as the storms would finally hit us then. They rolled in around 10pm to northeast GA, and that's when we tracked the Rabun county storm. There were several tornado warnings that night, and a funnel cloud was spotted in Henderson county late night, but no more tornadoes were produced by that system in our area. It was because there was SLIGHTLY less unstable air in place (some slight warming aloft mainly), plus the mountains likely had a hand in tearing up some of the storms. We were here all night doing cut-ins on the storms.
I remember weeks later I read an article in Sports Illustrated about an Alabama football player who had ridden out the storm and survived. He got into a closet with his girlfriend and their dogs. They did exactly what they were supposed to do. However, the winds were so strong that the closet door was blown open and his girlfriend got thrown out. He was also thrown, but survived. She died.
I hate hearing stories like that, and I'm tearing up a little as I write this. It's hard to imagine such a horrific and other-worldly event that would cause 2 people to be ripped out of their safe place and thrown hundreds of yards into the air. Sadly, that's why so many people died on April 27... the tornadoes were so strong, that it really didn't matter. Unless you were below ground, you wouldn't survive if the tornado went right over you. Meteorologists in Birmingham did a tremendous job of keeping the public informed and safe, and I hope that they all realize that they did everything that could.
My hope is that nothing like this EVER happens again. But, I'm realistic and chances are, in our lifetimes, it probably will happen again somewhere in the U.S. The most important thing to do in the meantime is to talk to your family and develop a plan! You want to find a place on the lowest floor of your home, away from windows, to meet and hunker down when a tornado warning is issued. A hallway, bathroom or closet are good places to go. If you have a basement, that the BEST place to be.