I Felt Like “This is It!”–Huntsville, AL tornadoes April 27, 2011

Apr 29, 2011 by

UPDATE 9:33 a.m. 4/29: Karen just sent me a text saying power is likely out now for 5-7 days

There were moments Wednesday, April 27, 2011 in the Huntsville, Alabama area when I seriously thought I would never be writing this.  Again.

For once again in my life, at about 7:30 or 8 p.m., I was once again in a car, (This time a Jeep,) with former State Trooper and Gov. Fob Jame’s security head, Tom Taylor, in the midst of a raging storm.  There was constant lightning.  (A sure sign you’re in or near a tornado.) There was hail.  (Another sure sign.) The rain was nearly a white out.  (A rain-wrapped tornado that you don’t ever see until you’re in Heaven.) The roads were flooded over.  And the winds were blowing from all directions (A whirl, another sure sign that you’re in deep do do.)  And at that point, I just knew we were about to be found a few days later wrapped around a tree, in a river bed, or several counties away.

Tom Taylor

Tom and his wife, Karen, and I go back to 1995.  We all worked for Gov. James.  And the thing about Fob was that when bad weather came, he felt the best place to be a first responder or event coordinator was to be right slap in the middle of it.  So there were times from 1995 to 1999 that we found ourselves in South Alabama waiting for hurricanes to come ashore.

In April of 1998, we were up in Birmingham the morning after the massive F-5 tornado came thru and obliterated homes, businesses, schools, and killed many.

April 27, 2011

So Wednesday started as a few other days had recently begun in Huntsville.  There were early am thunder claps.  A little rumble  and it was gone, like a front had passed thru and the sun soon would return.  I got up and made it into Huntsville, from New Market, about 10 miles north of Huntsville on US 231/431.

About 10 a.m. I received a phone call that on radar, a tornado was heading straight for the Taylor’s.  My colleague John and I decided we’d try to go see the thing since it was so close to the office at that point, and further to the north.  We didn’t catch it, and as we began to return to the office, the sun came out.  The air was magnetic and I told John if the temps got up to about 74 or more it was going to be Katie bar the door.

2:30 p.m.

By 2:30 p.m that daylight heating had done its thing.  That first storm had downed several trees and branches on the Taylor’s porch and yard, and now another one was headed toward New Market.  I got up that way in time for the next round of heavy rains, but I don’t recall there having been a tornado warning on TV.  But it was clear, all hell was about to begin.  The impending tornadic storms heading toward Huntsville

About 4 p.m., it was clear to Tom, Karen, and son, John,  daughters-in-law, grand kids and me, that we needed to move somewhere else.  A massive super cell was headed straight for us, and the radars were filled with storms with hook echos, which signify a tornado.

Moving To Tom’s Brother’s Basement

At this point we began a mass migration to Tom’s brother’s house, which has a basement with reinforced concrete.  It was the safest place we could go.  And we barely got there before the massive storm arrived.

For the next three or four hours, it was one massive, wind-whirling storm after another.  We could hear trees popping in the woods.  We had quarter sized hail.  We had constant lightning.  And then there were times when the clouds high above were moving at high rates of speed, and there wasn’t a leaf on the ground moving.

Bob had a generator hooked up and running at his house.  By the time we left Tom’s the power was out.  At this writing, it still is.  (It’s Friday.)

About 8 p.m.

When it finally felt about 8 p.m. that we could go out of the woods because we were out of the woods, Tom, Karen and I went back over to their house to check on things.  And then it became apparent that when we got back, we’d made a mistake and needed to get back to Bob’s.

On the ride to Tom’s we’d already passed roads that were covered over with raging water.  Heading back, it was worse and we decided to take another route.  A longer one.

Roads were still topped over with water.  Tom said of one, “This is about as high as it needs to be before it’s too dangerous to be doing this.”

As we drove back, we weaved our way through the flooded roads, downed trees, and endured the raging storm.


It was on this ride over that I truly became the most afraid I’ve ever been in my life.  Hurricanes I’ve driven through.  But this was far more chaotic and far more intense. My right hand clung to the dashboard handle of the Jeep.  And Tom pressed on as quickly as was safe.  Hail hit the top plastic top of the Jeep echoing through the vehicle. The rains beat upon the windows as though it were an angry guard dog trying to bite us from the other side of the fence.  And red river waters flowed across the road.

It’s at these times when one reflects on their life.  I longed so much to see once again the faces of my kids and my other loved ones.  And because the phones were basically dead, there was no way to call anyone to say fair well.

Turns out that wasn’t necessary.  But I’ve never felt that close to death’s door.

Thursday a.m.

I awoke back at Tom and Karen’s Thursday a.m.   We got back about 9:30 or so when the all clear finally had come.    As Karen said when I got downstairs and they had gotten up, “It was so nice to wake up this morning and still hear birds chirping.” And that was so true, so accurate and so poignant.

There are more details to come.  But I need to take a break.  This is still all so traumatic.



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Day 1 in Huntsville, AL: Do you say hi to others with a nice finger flick?

Mar 12, 2011 by

Rockets in an outdoor museum in Huntsville, Al...

Image via Wikipedia

Whew.  What a day it’s been.

I’m dead tired but have so many ideas and missions running thru my head.

One thing I realized tonight while driving out to my friends’ house.  I was driving down a two-lane road and the driver in a car coming toward me flicked his fingers up to say, “Hi.”  He didn’t know me, he was just saying, “Hi.”

I still do this in Dallas with police and obvious law enforcement types.  It’s something I picked up from living here in Alabama, but also just because of all those years working around police and state troopers.  You saw one, you give them a friendly flick of the fingers that means, “Hi,” and, “I see you.”

You don’t get that back in Dallas.  In fact, driving out here on the Interstate, I felt like either I was so focused on the issues at hand or I’ve gotten so jaded from living in a big city, that I’ve stopped looking over to the side when I passed cars.  Yesterday, I just drove on passed.

So, it’s been nice to be back.  I was driving through downtown Huntsville to get to my friends and was astonished that Highway 231 looks just as unfinished as it did back in 1998 when I was here the last time on the campaign trail.  I don’t get it.

Tomorrow’s another big day.

I need to stop and find a church in the a.m. and thank God for all he’s done for me.

Trying to wrap up two big video projects for two separate clients and the prospects are good for another new one.  God has opened so many doors for me the past few weeks.  It’s amazing when that starts to happen.  And it’s clear as a bell when it doesn’t.


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