NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE HUNTSVILLE AL
708 AM CDT WED APR 27 2011
THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN HUNTSVILLE HAS ISSUED A
* TORNADO WARNING FOR…
EASTERN DEKALB COUNTY IN NORTHEAST ALABAMA…
* UNTIL 745 AM CDT
* AT 709 AM CDT…NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED A
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM CAPABLE OF PRODUCING A TORNADO NEAR PINE
RIDGE…OR ABOUT NEAR FORT PAYNE…MOVING NORTHEAST AT 45 MPH.
* LOCATIONS NEAR THE PATH OF THIS TORNADO INCLUDE…
TAKE COVER NOW! MOVE TO AN INTERIOR ROOM ON THE LOWEST FLOOR OF A
STURDY BUILDING. AVOID WINDOWS. IF IN A MOBILE HOME…A VEHICLE OR
OUTDOORS…MOVE TO THE CLOSEST SUBSTANTIAL SHELTER AND PROTECT
YOURSELF FROM FLYING DEBRIS.
This would begin a very long day and night for yours truly. With the warning blaring on the weather radio I had to get up. I looked at the local radar on TV and got a cup of coffee. As my son and mother moved their BOBs I grabbed my “’nader bags” and placed them in the bathroom. We watched the radar and when we all noticed this was going to be a “non-event” we went back to our daily lives, except for my son who had a delayed school starting from the storms. After the first storm the VHF scanner came alive with calls of trees down all over DeKalb county so they pushed the school delay back further and further until around noon when they just canceled school for the day.
The lunch hour and early afternoon were covered with a high wind advisory and I was surprised to learn that my favorite local station for bad weather was still on the air from this morning talking about a tornado over in Moulton and continued to say on the air for the rest of the day. Around 4pm a thunderstorm warning came for a front over Scottsboro heading my way so we stopped all outdoor activities and went inside to watch the “fireworks” on TV. We watched wave after wave of super cells rage over Athens, Moulton and upper Madison county. All afternoon we kept getting power “dips”, if you’ve had a tornado nearby you know what I’m taking about, the lights dim just for a mere second before going back to full brightness. This is usually the case when a line gets downed and the system tries to reroute power around that particular line. These were starting to get very numerous with several of them every few minutes. We watched a cell go through Cullman and Arab and listened as Marshall County EMA called for all available medical persons to head to Cullman for assistance. Same cell continued up through Scottsboro and crossed into the uppermost part of DeKalb County. I listened as EMS crews, Ider FD and Cartersville FD raced down the roads, cutting trees as they went desperate to get to the affected area. Later I learned that is was an EF-3, the second tornado of the day. The first was an EF-2 that crossed over Henegar and ended up in Pisgah.
Around 4pm the power went out to my house. No storm in my area, still sunny over my home but no power. I thought perhaps some of the large TVA lines across the Tennessee River near Scottsboro had been damaged. That is until my volunteer fire department issued radio picked up a Collinsville PD officer asking the Sheriff’s Office if they knew that ALL of Collinsville was without power, to which the SO answered it was off at the SO as well. I went inside and made my usual jokes, “just as soon as I run the lines and get the gen running the power will come on.” And my “the power is out? How shocking!” But I started the gen anyway, moved my personal home scanner into the house and locked out the freqs my fire radio was monitoring. The local TV station started a new storm track on a cell that seemed to pop up from nowhere in Blount County, this track was pointed almost straight at the family compound.
Since the BOBs were still in the bathroom from this morning’s tornado warning were basically set, the only addition I made was the Black & Decker Storm Center. By this time two of the three firefighters on the compound were already in turnout gear, only I had not donned my pants. We put everyone in the bathroom (including two of the dogs) while I turned the TV down and turned the scanner way up. In this case the SD (Sheriff’s Dept) deputies had eyes on the funnel before I turned the scanner way up.
A word about VHF/UHF scanners. I’m a big believer in them as in intelligence tool. Once you get the frequencies you need for your area (I’d suggest the Sheriff’s Department, your local EMA, local fire and EMS frequencies as a minimum, these can be found at radioreference.com) take some time to just listen. You will be surprised the information you can get first off the scanner before you hear about it in the news. In this particular case, the local TV station is getting the information on funnel clouds the same way I was, direct from the scanner and I don’t have to wait for them to hear it and report this back to me on the TV.
The construction of my house allows me at the center hallway to be inches from the bathroom (exact center of house) and able to see out the front and rear windows so if glass starts breaking I’m in the bathroom in less than a second. I’m standing looking out the front, DitchDr is looking out the back windows and we are looking for massive gusts of wind. Scanner is calling off spotter reports as deputies race up Hwy 75 tracking the storm, “JUST EAST OF FYFFE NOW!” one yells. Next deputy calls that it looks to be heading straight for the community down the road from us where we vote; mentally I’m doing the track in my head. East of Fyffe heading for the spot down the road, we are dead in the path. I told everyone to hunker down in the bathroom and get ready. Deputies are still calling off speeds and debris flying through the air. Then the winds around the house stop. I mean dead calm stop. Now I will put my hand on any Holy book you want and swear that at that moment I was as scared as I’ve been in a long, long time. A crack of lightening would have all given us heart attacks. You could have heard a pin drop in my house, we were all holding our breath until the scanner yells out. “It’s over Plainview School right now,” that school is about two miles from my house, the vortex missed us.
I dared to venture outside the house and look to the North and was greeted with a great wall cloud that stopped just above the Pine trees across a pasture, but in between those trees was a… a great swirling evil. During this time the fire radio started to come alive with calls of departments responding to trees down. We told everyone at home to stay safe, listen to the scanner, watch the weather, keep the generator in gas and we took off for our fire department; on the way the Chief called all of us to meet up at the department. Once there we formed up our first disaster team, nine members in two POVs (with our own lights and sirens) and two apparatus. We were sent to help a fellow department reach a utterly destroyed section of County Rd 27. After cutting a few small trees to reach 27, we turned around to try another way in as the main road on 27 was going to take a while to cut through. We left them to cut through from there and approached from another direction, up Lingerfelt Rd in Rainsville.
Our first obstacle was a Rainsville PD cruiser, a local EMS supervisor and a heavy ambulance looking at a 2ft thick pine tree across the road. A local wrecker service was backed up to the tree and with its Semi-Tractor tow rig was attempting to winch it out of the way. I sent our guys up front with chainsaws while I talked to the supervisor and PD, We agreed to run a convoy and stay together until we broke through the trees. As we agreed, the tree lurched from its spot and I got my boys back a huddle to explain the situation as it started to rain hard again. I told the wrecker not to worry about clearing the entire road, we only needed one lane open for us. We got the column rolling; Supervisor, ambulance, my truck, Fire Engine One, Truck Three and the Rainsville PD bring up the rear. We cut one or two more trees out of the way, thank gawd for Husquvarna, when we reached a scene of devastation I had never seen before in all my EMS/FF years. Every direction you looked for a quarter mile there was NOTHING over four feet high. Fences. Trees. Homes. Everything. I recognized my Father’s Jeep with its strobes on pointing at a pile of debris, he and DitchDr were frantically working a figure in the rubble. Time to get to work.
How that cop (not the one I had with me) got there ahead of me I couldn’t figure out but he told me “they are working on one, he is bad off, but I want you to see the yellow tape, that one is deceased,” I nodded at him for him to go on, he just kind of looked at me in slight state of shock. I thanked him and pulled my department to the scene.
There were some Rainsville Fire personnel already there assisting the two paramedics who were working a moaning patient. I got my boys to bring a scoops stretcher so we wouldn’t have to transport this victim on the door he was laying on. The medic units were a pasture away with three victims (I never heard if they were dead or alive), so I had my pickup brought up and turned around; it was instant ambulance time. About this time the word came over the radio that wounded were going to the DeKalb Coliseum. “Alright,” I thought, “disaster prep plans are starting to be opened.” The scanner in my truck has EMA pushing different local commands over to different frequencies on the VHF band as everyone is talking at the same time on ONE poor county fire frequency, all the EMS units are getting swamped transporting three and sometimes four patients at a time.
Stay tuned for PART 2 on Thursday……….