Tornado Scares – Life in the South


When you live in the deep south you learn quickly the weather has its own personality here. We may be in the 20s on a Monday in December, with ice and snow, and the 70s on Wednesday, with thunderstorms and tornadoes. You learn about TOR:CON indexes and dew points and values. This is life in what is known as Dixie Alley. Yes, it exists, look it up. Our tornadoes tend to be more violent than those in Tornado Alley, due to some very unique weather patterns that we get in this part of the country. The warm air of the gulf doesn’t always play nice with the cool air coming down from the north. They fight, and we get instability in our atmosphere like popcorn kernels doing the happy jump in a frying pan.

And then the fun begins.

James Spann, our own personal weatherman hero, comes on air on ABC 33/40. Every person in Central Alabama knows who James Spann is. Respect the polygon! He visits schools, daycares, homeschool co-ops, and teaches the importance of knowing where you live in our state. Every child in Alabama knows the shape of their county, and where specifically in that shape their own home is located.

It’s necessary, because when a storm is tracking across the state, you need to know where it is in relation to you. Is the red polygon with the tornado barreling down stretching to include our specific shape, and more importantly, our place within that shape? Ask any child from the state to point their county without words on the map, and they will. Little fingers touching oddly outlined places.

We learned real quick in 2003 when we moved here what our county, and every subsequent county we lived in, looked like and where it was located within the state. Geography my friends, is a necessity in Dixie Alley. And James Spann takes things even further. This incredible meteorologist seems to know everything about every obscure location in his viewing area. He can tell you how close a tornado is to a church or gas station within a county by just looking at the radar and hook echo. It’s a thing of beauty.

So, when James Spann looks at the TV screen and says “Get to your safe place now”, you listen. We

have bags packed on days where we’re in a high likelihood of being part of the bad weather event. Our son has his bugout bag packed the night before, which I’m fine with, it helps ease his storm anxiety. Most of the time, we don’t have to worry about anything. But… then the polygon shifts on the TV. Our phones go off. An emergency warning broadcasts in a running red banner across the top of the screen and we head out the door, and load into the Jeep. My husband turns on the radio so he can keep track of where it is in relation to us as we head to the storm shelter. All the while, if we can, we watch the sky.

Most times, it’s pouring rain and lightning, and the environment is just generally stressful. This last time, it was fairly calm. The air heavy with humidity, a distant rumble of thunder the only proof a storm headed our way. We make it to shelter. The storms today are giving us a good lead time, about thirty minutes before they make their appearance in our area. Nice to have a weather system be so considerate of our needs to make it to safety.

We pull up to the shelter, and as usual, we’re the only ones who use it at this location. I’m not going to complain. We have a huge building all to ourselves. We settle in and play the waiting game. My husband puts the news on his phone. Our son burrows deep into a blanket he brought and lets his anxiety dissipate before amusing himself with one of the many electronical devices he brought. He usually ends up on my phone in the end, playing Minecraft. Yep. Why did we buy that Switch again?

Me? I prop my feet up on another chair, pull out my laptop and try to be productive. Now, if it’s 3am (yes, this happens), I’ll just read a book. My brain can’t function for anything useful at three in the morning. I’m actually pretty useless any time before nine. Just letting you know. Never call me before then. I will either ignore you, or bark something rude into your ear. Ask my sister. She thinks it’s hilarious to call me at 1am. Anyway, I digress…

James Spann continues to keep us informed about where in the polygon the tornado is, and where specifically it’s heading. We’re fine, but it’s moving right up the road that parallels our house. So we’re in our safe place, but we have to sit and wonder if our home will be okay. And our dogs. This cell is tracking at 50 miles an hour, a strong destructive storm tearing through our community. All we can do is watch, and wait. And pray.

As we listen and the storm moves closer (and I write, the husband Pokemon’s, and the kidlet builds),

the power flickers and eventually goes out. We’re ready for this, too. Thankfully the cell towers still function, we know what’s going on. We wait, while outside rain hammers the building and the wind whips. Once we’re given the all clear, we turn off all the light switches and head back to the Jeep. All the while the news is talking about the destruction.

Once safely home, we turn the TV back on and… the tornado that passed us is now heading straight for my father’s work. Literally. Okay, now I need to know where my Daddy is. I text. No reply. I text my mom, who says he’s fine, she just heard from him, but her satellite TV is out. I’m like ‘if your TV is out, then you haven’t seen a TORNADO IS HEADING STRAIGHT FOR HIM!’. I get a mild reply – He’s fine. *blink-blink*

Now who’s freaking out?

Yeah, that would be me.

I finally hear from my dad, he says everyone is fine, it missed them by a half mile. Which coincidently is about how close the tornado came to our house… It did hit the ice-skating rink where our son plays hockey, which is right up the road from my father’s work.

Images start pouring in of people’s houses destroyed. Trees laid flat. Roads covered by power lines and debris. Y’all… Tornado damage is so devasting. Seeing people pick through their lives under a pile of destroyed wood and brick, pulling out anything they can salvage just to have clean clothes will make you cry. I’m thankful we live in a place where communities band together to make sure whatever these families need, they get. Local fire departments put out the call for help, and people show up, chainsaws in hand, ready to clear roads and pull people from rubble.  

This is life for us in the spring and fall, sometimes in the middle of winter too, depending on the weather patterns. But February, March and April, October and November, it’s guaranteed we will have to be weather aware, and our tornado adventures will happen all over again…

Do you live anywhere with interesting weather?