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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The Super PR Problem in Dallas

Feb 4, 2011 by

This is a picture of "Cowboys Stadium&quo...

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There are a few key rules in the public relations world.  The first oft most repeated one is “Never tell a lie.” After that, there’s debate at which should be ranked second.

Rule #2

This week in Dallas, Rule #2 should be called–Don’t tempt fate or don’t say “You’re ready for anything.”

The news narrative Sunday and Monday in Dallas was light and the excitement was there.  The news in town essentially had little to do with news.  The DFW news media was into what could be referred to as, “We had a dance the other night and every body came and every body had a good time” mode.

There was so very little news on the news here in Dallas, and though the local weather staffs were beginning to say that it might be icy weather come Tuesday, no one believed them, and worse still, Super Bowl XLV Committee leaders all were saying, including Jerry Jones, that contingencies had been planned for.  The repeated video clip was, “We had to present to scenario plans, one for good weather, one for winter weather.” Monday night in the local FOX program, news anchor Steve Eager said the ground “was too warm for anything to stick.”

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday

Then at around 3 a.m. Tuesday, all wintry hell broke loose upon the DFW area.  It came quick and furious.  And in spite of  how warm it had previously been in North Texas a few days before–76 on Saturday–it landed on the ground and it stuck to everything.  Along with it came freezing temps.  At this writing, the temp in DFW hasn’t been above freezing since about 4 a.m. Monday.

Schools closed.  Businesses closed.  Semi-trucks were jackknifed throughout the interstate highways in DFW.  Since Monday, the Fort Worth Police Department has worked more than 800 car accidents.

By 5 p.m. Tuesday, school districts already were announcing they were closing for Wednesday.  They closed for Thursday.  They closed for Friday.

On Wednesday, power throughout Texas was off in many homes.  Because the power grid was nearly tapped out, rolling blackouts began across the entire state.

On Thursday, there were still freezing temps, and the weather staffs began to talk about a little light dusting for snow in the DFW area.  >1 was on nearly all the maps.  Later in the day they began to bump it up to 1-2 inches.

Friday morning, five inches of snow fell.  Traffic once again was snarled. And the story about how prepared North Texas was for wintry weather unraveled completely and became a mockery to news media from around the world.  To book, it was learned late Thursday that Texas Gov. Rick Perry wasn’t even in Texas.  He was in California.  An opportunity to get the Texas National Guard involved, to have TEMA, extra resources from TxDOT, all of that, was missed.

Hundreds of flights into Dallas have been canceled this week.  Love Field in Dallas was closed for nine hours on Friday.

Rule #3–Don’t Bad Mouth The Press

And with it, the reputation of DFW to host a Super Bowl began to become more than sour to the taste.  At one point this week, Arlington’s Mayor remarked that the press’ attitude had become a “Super Bowl of sour grapes.” Rule #3: Don’t ever bad mouth the press. It just makes things worse.

Will There Be Another Super Bowl in DFW?

By Friday morning, that’s what North Texas residents and the world’s news media began to decide about DFW. The local media added to it.  The answer seemingly became unanimous.  “No.” This became the story of the day.

Feed the media fresh, red meat daily–Rule #4

What’s been disappointing to watch is how the Super Bowl Committee’s PR types, whom ever they are, haven’t come out swinging with other things to have the press write about.  Absent of fresh, red meat, the media finds its own stories, and they’re seldom ever the one you want.

Rule #4–Feed the media a daily supply of fresh, red meat. And today, amazingly, no one thought about what would happen when ice and snow began to fall over the curve of the world’s largest domed stadium.  Initially, reports were that seven people had been injured, one critically.  On CBS Nightly News, Katie Couric was on with video rolling of ice falling off the roof and a plume of white billowing about.  ESPN has video and commentary about it. Sports Illustrated has been reporting about how bad things have been.  And from the look of it, the Super Bowl Committee, Jerry Jones, the Mayors of Dallas and Fort Worth, Arlington, and we already mentioned the governor of Texas is MIA, there is little or no counter messaging going on.

Rule #5–Don’t let someone else define you

And so like we noted above, when there is no message coming out of your camp, someone else will fill it for you.  In this case, it’s 5,000 members of the world’s press.  It’s better to tell your own bad news, always.  The NFL’s Commissioner tonight was seen on all the TV stations, sheepishly holding a microphone and looking like a deer in headlights.  The Super Bowl in DFW has been defined, first by the weather, and second, by reporters who have had little else to do but join in the reporting by the local news media about how bad conditions are.

And to use the cliche, perception, unfortunately, is reality.

Don Draper Moment–It’s Time To Change The Conversation

Now is when Jerry Jones, Mayor Cluck, the NFL Commissioner, anyone, needs to step forward and pull a Don Draper and write the letter, one-page ad in the New York Times and say that they’ll never handle a tobacco account again.   That doesn’t mean DFW should concede that Jerry World shouldn’t be the home for say, Super Bowl L, but it needs to something positive, and defiant of the mood that’s come over DFW like a, snow cloud, for lack of a better term.   Of course, the game Sunday, hopefully, will do a lot to help that.

But something clear and pronounced needs to be said.  Roger Staubach is probably the best messenger for this.  Troy Aikman would be a good choice, but he’s committed to neutrality at FOX.

Yes, a news conference with Roger where he should:

  1. Apologize that the weather situation hasn’t been handled as well as it could have been, but this is North Texas, and in spite of having brought in additional winter weather equipment, we could have, should have, and in the next 48 hours, will do everything we can to make sure things improve to the best as humanly possible.
  2. Ask North Texans to stand with him in solidarity to be supportive of making the final 36 hours or so before the game the best foot forward ones that can be mustered. Hey should throw a verbal Hail Mary Pass and invoke the name of Coach Tom Landry.  “Let’s do this to honor the memory of Coach Landry who worked so hard to make our Cowboys team great.” This includes encouraging them to come down to the shops and centers in Sundance Square, Arlington and Dallas and helping show that locals are still 100 percent behind the effort.
  3. Ask a spokesman for each of the two teams–the coaches or a player from each team–to join Roger and encourage their fans to come back out to see them.  The Steelers are going to spend a little time in Sundance.  The Packers will do something in West End.  It might break traditions of getting the teams in their final preps, but it’d go a long way to give fans a little something extra to make up for what they’ve missed out on this week.
  4. Have Jerry Jones step forward and concede that things have not gone as he’d planned and show a little, even a tiny bit of humility in it all, if that’s possible.  If it’s not going to come across as sincere, just have him stand there.  In the last few interviews he’s still been halfhearted.

That doesn’t mean things will be better, but it’d go a long way.  It’d give the media something to write about, and while it’d still be focused on what is a problem, they’d at least hear the humility and maybe better appreciate that even Jerry Jones is human and mistakes do happen.

And then it’s a matter of hoping like crazy that forecasters are wrong about the 40 percent possibility of more wintry weather Sunday.  And worse still, the potential for it next week.  If these fans and media can’t get out of DFW to get back home, that’s when things are really going to get bad.

The full-page ad in the New York Times, Green Bay and Pittsburgh papers probably wouldn’t be a bad idea either.  Oh, and don’t forget USA Today, The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.

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Snow and Ice in DFW–A photo Essay

Feb 1, 2011 by

Wow, Old Man Winter showed up sometime in the middle of the night here in North Texas.   There’s now a sheet of ice on everything around here.

I was only out for a few minutes, the wind chill is about ZERO degrees, so I didn’t venture too far.

As you can see, the snow/ice/freezing rain mix fell and now has frozen to just a sheet.  Where cars sloshed threw, their tracks are now encased until it warms up.  Which is supposed to be Noon on Friday.  It’s Tuesday.

It’s gonna be a while before this grill gets some action again.

This is the kind of sliding we’re used to in North Texas.

Seriously,  I weigh more than I should and more than I want to. This is all of the shoeprint I could leave in the snow/ice mix.


This is a view of the railing outside on the porch.

Something else that won’t be needed for a little while.  The air conditioning compressor unit outside.

This morning DFW Airport has been closed for what was said to be the first time ever.   Love Field had issues, and even Dart rail in Dallas stopped running and they were converting to buses. And nearly every one of the 38 school districts in the Dallas Fort Worth area was closed, too.

Meanwhile in Arlington, Media Day goes on for the Super Bowl.

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