April 27, 2011 in Alabama – One Of The Worst Tornado Outbreaks Ever

Apr 27, 2014 by

April 27, 2011 in Alabama – One Of The Worst Tornado Outbreaks Ever

I was in Huntsville, AL for April 27, 2011, one of the worst tornado outbreaks ever recorded in the state with 247 killed in 62 storms. I never will forget that day as long as I live, for I thought at one point, it was going to be my last.

Smithville Tornado April 27th 2011 095

Smithville Tornado April 27th 2011 095 (Photo credit: Tales from the South)

During the mid 1990s, I worked in the Governor’s Office of Gov. Fob James. His lead bodyguard, State Trooper Tom Taylor, became a life-long friend of mine. It was during the spring of 2011 that I was working with a client in Huntsville, where Tom, wife Karen and the rest of the Taylors returned to after leaving the administration in January 1999. I was staying with them north of Rocket City in a little community called New Market.

That morning, I’d gone into the city to work with friend and colleague, John Hornbuckle. Around 9 a.m. that morning we heard of a tornado warning just northwest of the offices and gave chase, but it was moving too fast to catch up to. We went back to the office. But what I didn’t know was how bad the storm had been when it went over the Taylor’s house. They had downed trees. It was something of a mess.

Now having been in Texas for a decade and away from Montgomery, Alabama where I’d spent almost 20 years of life and 10 of them working in or around the Governor’s Office, I’d grown unfamiliar with Alabama weather. While in office with former Gov. Guy Hunt and Gov. James I remembered the Airport Road deaths from tornadoes at rush hour in the late 1980s and then I still have photos somewhere of me, Gov. James and Trooper Taylor walking through the damages of the F5 tornado that hit west of Birmingham in April 1998, but I had no idea how the rest of the day was going to go.

Here in North Texas, our weather people are good at hyping the weather, they’re just not very good at accuracy. And like most talk in Texas about things being bigger – the rivalry between Texas and OU, the severity of storms, etc. I’d grown accustomed to not getting too serious about dire weather predictions after a decade of blown North Texas forecasts. Usually, like even this morning in DFW, a line of storms comes thru and the event is over.

April 27, 2011

But that didn’t happen in Alabama on April 27. I left John at the office about 11 a.m. to go to the Taylor’s because they had downed trees and I was going to go help. Well, by the time I got there, Tom had already returned, Karen was there, the kids were out of school, (It was a week day) and word was around 12:30 p.m. that we were all headed from there to a shelter close by.

RadarScope App

It was at this time that Tom told me about and shared with me the best app for iPhone I’ve come to use yet–RADARSCOPE. It gives amazingly accurate and up-to-date radar images. Previously I’d been using the WeatherUnderground.com site. In the past few weeks, they have made changes to the site that to me make navigating it a complexity and in times of a storm, I just want to see what the radar looks like, the color in the formations, how fast it’s moving and I don’t need it down to the street level.

To their credit, on Twitter, WeatherUnderground asked me for feedback, but I have to say, I’m not getting anything near with them what I’m getting on my iOS devices in RadarScope.

The Afternoon of April 27, 2011 in Huntsville, AL

We got to Tom’s brother’s house. It had a storm shelter in the basement and a ramp around back where one could seek shelter. Being north of Huntsville in New Market, I had no idea that we had moved further into the path of the storms that would knock out areas to the northeast of Decatur and south of my Dad’s birthplace, Athens.

As I recall that day, we endured SEVEN tornado warnings. One nearly right after the other. It was harrowing.

Around 5 p.m. Karen, Tom and I thought things were going to die down enough for us to get out and go get something to eat. There’s a great Mexican place just across the Tennessee border we’d talked about going to. But before going north, we went back to their house. And then …

The Drive Back To The Bunker

When we realized another ferocious storm was coming, we left Tom and Karen’s house headed the two or three miles back to the bunker we’d been in. But by then the storm was upon us. There were torrential rains. The road ahead at one point headed due west was overflowing with rushing water. We were in a Jeep with a plastic-type lid. It began to hail and every stone that hit the car sounded like a rock in that blinding rain. We made a right turn to go north. More rain. More wind. And when there’s hail, there’s usually something spinning at high speeds, a tornado, around it.

As we drove thru this, I began to pray harder than ever before. Now I’d ridden thru hurricanes coming ashore and that kind of thing with the governor and Tom before, but this was different. We were being tossed and banged. We could barely see and the last thing we needed to do was stop because we surely would have met tragedy.

I could see off to the right of the road from the front passenger seat. Trees were falling to our sides. Trees were falling on the roads.  I just knew we were about to be off to the right of the road in a ditch.

The storm didn’t let up the entire ride over to Tom’s brother’s house. But by the grace of God, we made it.

The Rest of Alabama

That day, 62 tornadoes dropped to the ground in Alabama and 247 people met death’s door, a fate I thought at several points we were certain to join them in.

Because of the storms, the power in Huntsville and most of North Alabama was out for nearly a week. By early morning, Karen, Tom and I had ventured out to see Highway 231 a log jam in both directions. Traffic lights were out. People were seeking food, gas and ice. Miraculously, I found an open gas station about a mile from the Taylor’s house and once topped off, headed to see my Mom in Montgomery until things were restored.

All across the state, people were mourning the loss of family and friends.

I was lucky to have survived that day. I know it was by God’s will that I didn’t die because he had some other mission for me to fulfill. It’s days like today I reflect on whether or not I’m meeting him and his purpose. Today’s sermon in church was about stopping things we shouldn’t be doing and getting focused on God; letting Him take over and putting the things holding us all back onto the Lord and dealing with them, no longer ignoring them.

Finding Your Purpose

Have you found your purpose? Do you know why God has led you to where you are now? More on that to come, but I encourage you today to remember those who perished this day just three years ago. Bless you and bless them.  Radar right now is showing a mass of storms in Mississippi and they’re marching toward Alabama like General Sherman on Atlanta. Let us pray that things go okay today. History doesn’t need a repeat.

 

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‘SK: I need U to call an ambulance. I’m having bad chest pains.’

Sep 4, 2011 by

A week ago this morning I awoke to a beautiful sunny day in North Alabama.  Friday night and most of the day Saturday I’d had a great adventure with a close friend and her family.  Work was going great.  The stress level had dropped immeasurably.  I was in good spirits, though missing my girls back at home in Texas, and then, WHAM!  At age 45, any youthful innocence left in me disappeared in a flash as the pains of a mild heart attack began in my chest about 11:15 a.m. and it began to feel like my throat was closing in.

Monday, doctors put in a stent.  Tuesday I was freed from the hospital thinking if I’d survived that, I wasn’t going to be that tired, after all, they’d only sent a wire up through my leg.   Wednesday I was too tired to go anywhere.  Thursday the mental and emotional side of all this came crashing down on me.  The “Oh SHIT!” moment of my life hit me harder than the pains on Sunday morning.

DIET, STRESSFUL RELATIONSHIPS, LACK OF EXERCISE

From my accounts here on DaddyClaxton.com, you know I’ve tried in the past couple of years to make some important changes.  I’ve changed my diet and have dropped about 30 pounds in the past five months simply by changing my diet and consumption.  I’ve identified the 20 percent of people and relationships who were causing 80 percent of my duress and put up boundaries.  And through two bouts of Diverticulitis, I’ve tried to adopt an exercise program off and on.

But like Steve Jobs being worth $8.74 billion, no amount of money or anything else has been able to alleviate all that ails me.

TIME FOR SOME MORE CHANGES

God didn’t take me last Sunday because as my friend said, he was allowing me to receive the “Double Bitch Slap of Life.”  I’ve always held true to the conviction that I’m here for a reason and that is to help others. So many friends this week have called, texted, emailed, even sent smoke signals telling me to stop worrying about the welfare of others so much.  “THIS IS ABOUT YOU!” my friend has told me repeatedly.

That’s a hard mindset to adopt. And I don’t want to do it to the other extreme either.

For years, my first wife has projected her guilt onto me saying that I’m narcissistic.  Nearly a decade of counseling has confirmed that she is, I’m not and added to the testimony of so many friends this week who have known me for decades proves what I’ve known all along–like always, she’s full of –it.

Unfortunately, it appears I’m now going to have to close down the one last remaining channel for her to harass me.  Why can’t some see the hurt and damage they cause in the lives of everyone around them through their own selfishness?

EXERCISE

I can begin walking Wednesday.  I’m supposed to build up to 30 minutes a day, five days per week.  I’m ready.

DIET

Carol Ireton-Jones, Donna Israel and Martha McHenry at Professional Nutrition Therapists in Dallas already have let me know when I get back to town, there are going to be more recommended meal changes. (If you live in Dallas, they are the ones to call!)

RELATIONSHIPS

I’ve made some really cool friends in North Alabama the past few months.  My relationships with them are healthier than many in the past, and if things get out of hand, I’ve learned to step back and not expose myself.  If you’re a positive person, and you make me laugh, I’ll enjoy spending time with you.  If you’re going to bring drama the likes I’ve endured the past 16 years because of spouses, have a miserable life unto yourself. You’re not going to cuss me, to yell at me, or throw things at me.  That’s just not going to be tolerated.  I’ve learned that’s the only way you can be “happy,” and like I’m trying to say nicely, “I’m done with that.”

SK: I NEED U TO CALL AN AMBULANCE

I was working with my client and friend SK Chauhan at his house last Sunday. When my pains hit, I stepped outside on the back porch to see if fresh air was going to change my situation.  It didn’t and at 11:24, I sent the text message of a lifetime that simply read:  “SK.  I need u to call an ambulance.  I’m having bad chest pains.”

My mom, an RN, said I couldn’t have worded that text message better.  When you call 911 and you need an ambulance to get you to the hospital ASAP, don’t speculate and say you need the paramedics, because in some places, they can’t transport and if they wait to arrive before they decide to send a bus for you, well, they might wind up calling for a different kind of wagon….

The other thought that has haunted me is what if I’d passed out on the porch–It would have been a few minutes before anyone came out and asked what I was doing.  And if this had been worse ….

MORE CHANGES

I’m weighing my options this morning as I sit at a desk at my Mom’s house in Montgomery, AL.  And though written from a woman’s perspective, Fergie‘s Big Girls Don’t Cry has been on a loop in my head the past few days.  “Myself and I have, I have some figuring out to do,” for sure.

I won’t go into those thoughts right now.  They’re still rattling around in my head that for the past few days has been a little on the mushy, incomplete and WTH happened side.

Until then “I need to be by myself and center, clarity, peace, serenity. “ And on the other hand, I’m trying to see as many old friends as I may so I’m not thinking about …..

And rather than being at mom’s here in Montgomery, I wish nothing more than to be back in Dallas in my apartment, in my bed resting, and with the option to see my doting daughters, whom I’ve not seen in almost a month now.   That’s the hardest part here.  What if I’d left them and so many of you behind last weekend?

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Greetings From Huntsville, AL

Jun 1, 2011 by

We’re back again in Huntsville, AL meeting with the company leaders of Digheon Healthcare, Inc.

Much has been done to advance the positioning of our client in the past few weeks.

It’s time for us to begin some new discussions about how to market a medical information company online and in traditional channels.

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The Huntsville, AL Tornadoes

Apr 29, 2011 by

We were in the middle of the tornadoes of North Alabama this week.  At this writing, 1/2 the state is still without power and likely won’t have it for several more days.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Alabama who are suffering in the recovery or who have lost loved ones.

This has been an awful event, but Alabama will recover.  We are here to help that process as well.

 

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The Strength and Unity of Alabamians–Tornado Recovery

Apr 29, 2011 by

In Alabama you’re either “one of them,” (A fan of the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa) or an Auburn fan.  There is no in between.  But after Wednesday’s tornadoes, even that doesn’t matter.  Sure, fokes (that’s how the Montgomery Advertiser spells it and has for decades) are still sporting their loyalist garb, but as a whole, they are one now, and at this time of incredible devastation, people are banding together, whether they know one another or not, and they’re coping, trying to clear their roads and yards of tree limbs, debris, and anything else, and it’s an incredible thing to be a part of.  It’s truly one of the best things about Alabama.

Yesterday morning I was able to leave Huntsville with enough gas to get me to my mom’s in Montgomery.  Part of me wishes I’d stayed up there.  Helping pump gas at The Triangle Grocery in New Market were two guys.  One was a friend of the owner who had been at the station for a couple of hours helping pump gas to those of us desperate to have it.  He wasn’t getting paid.  Had no power himself.  But there he was.  The other was a school teacher who was just learning he and his wife, a fellow teacher, didn’t have to worry about school until at least Tuesday. 

When we, (Tom and Karen Taylor)  drove for cover Wednesday afternoon about 4 p.m. many of the roads had been blocked earlier in the day by fallen trees.  It wasn’t relief coming from Washington, DC, the White House, the Alabama Department of Transportation or Huntsville County Crews that had done it.  It was Alabamians with chainsaws.

On the way north while I was going south, I saw leagues of electric utility trucks with various stickers on their doors all heading into the thick of it.  Lines of unmarked, dark black Alabama State Trooper cars with blue lights flashing and running 10-17 in the left lane (That means they were running code to North Alabama; aka, they were hauling ass) were headed into the heart of it.  (As a side note, this also suggests they were higher ups heading into the fray, because lower ranked troopers don’t have brand new black cars….)

And then there was a time or two when I saw just plain old dump trucks and pickups rolling north, too.  They had bulldozers on the trailers they were pulling.

At the Publix yesterday morning in New Market/Meridianville the doors were open.  The electricity was off, but they’d found a way to run off emergency power and even could do electronic debit/credit card purchases.  But they were open at a time when they were needed most.  And the employees there said they were going to be there until the store closed or they had run out of food to sell.

Alabama is going to recover from this incredible, Biblic-proportioned devastation.  Some have said areas of Tuscaloosa, Cullman, Phil Campbell, Cordova, and Pleasant Grove in Birmingham look like they’d been hit by atomic bombs.  And while there will be help from the federal government and the state, a lot of healing and rebuilding had already begun before those very much needed and appreciated assets could be deployed.

That’s the way things happen in Alabama.  Even if you’re helping a fellow Auburn fan, or one of them Bama fans.

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