Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tornado in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

The April 25 to April 28, 2011 tornado outbreak was the largest tornado outbreak ever recorded. The outbreak affected the Southern, Midwestern and Northeastern United States, leaving catastrophic destruction in its wake, especially across the state of Alabama. It produced destructive tornadoes in Alabama, Arkansas, Geogia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia and affected many other areas throughout the Southern and Eastern United States. In total, 358 tornadoes were confirmed by the National Weather Service in 21 states from Texas to New York and in southern Canada. Widespread and destructive tornadoes occurred on each day of the outbreak, with April 27 being the most active day with a record of 205 tornadoes touching down that day. Four of the tornadoes were destructive enough to be rated EF5 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which is the highest ranking possible; typically these tornadoes are only recorded about once each year or less.

In total, 348 people were killed as a result of the outbreak. That death toll includes 324 tornado-related deaths across six states. In addition, 24 fatalities were not caused by tornadoes, but were confirmed to be as a result of other thunderstorm-related impacts such as straight-line winds, hail, flash flooding or lightning. 238 tornado-related deaths in Alabama alone were confirmed by the SPC and the state's Emergency Management Agency.

I don't remember the newscast of this extreme weather outbreak but extreme weather is becoming all the more common. The event only stands out because as a member of the Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), I was able to attend a conference on Emergency Preparedness. The Keynote Speaker was Julie Schoeing, State Emergency Management Program Manager for Alabama. She gave a first hand account of the destruction and massive inter agency cooperation that had to occur afterwards in order to create some sense of control to a very chaotic environment. More than 300 power transmission towers, 120 feet to 150 feet tall, were destroyed in the storms, some "twisted like bow ties" according to National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Holweg. The towers supported some 90 transmission lines. Those lines provided power from Tennessee Valley Authority to 128 regional distributors. In addition to electricity being cut for thousands of households for up to eight days, cell phone towers had also been destroyed making communication between emergency management responders very difficult.

First Responders quickly discovered there weren’t enough radios, flashlights, batteries, food, water and medicine to go around. Fuel stored underground at gas stations couldn’t be accessed for emergency use because generators weren’t available to power the pumps to extract it. People without proper identification to prove residency — because it blew away with their wallets or purses — were prevented from returning to damaged homes, doubling their frustration over already dismal circumstances.

In the aftermath, an Emergency Management Council appointed by Alabama's Government asked the questions, "What if people had routinely kept on hand emergency supplies of food, water, medicine, radios, batteries and even copies of important documents needed later to confirm homeownership, insurance coverage and bank accounts?"

In short, what if everybody had been more prepared?

Go to and sign up for an Urban Thriving training to find out more about what the council recommended and what you should be doing to prepare for a similar event in Wisconsin.

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