It's gonna be a stormy year... April 28, 2011 6:24 AM   Subscribe

My town was lucky - no deaths that I know of - when the storms came through here yesterday. We, and most of the surrounding towns, lost power. Now I know these same storms moved East. Has anyone heard anything from the rest of the Southern Mefites?
posted by patheral to MetaFilter-Related at 6:24 AM (105 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

I'd love to hear from Alabama folks. All my family are (thankfully) okay, but they're without power and are now without phones, too, as far as I can tell.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:33 AM on April 28, 2011

Where I live in western KY, we're just worried about flooding. I've checked on all my Alabama friends and business contacts, most are relatively unscathed, but they know folks that have lost it all.
posted by deezil at 6:40 AM on April 28, 2011

rhaomi checked in on MetaChat last night and was relatively OK. He had no power and was posting from a cell phone, so I thought I'd let folks here know on his behalf, since I don't know if he can get on MeFi right now.
posted by FishBike at 6:52 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

We got watches and high wind warnings here in NC, getting ready to hop in the state van and head east. I will not be the state employee stoically videotaping a tornado this afternoon, I promise you that.
posted by marxchivist at 6:54 AM on April 28, 2011

Central Mississippi checking in. Several tornadoes have skirted around us since Tuesday night. We did get a lot of straight-line winds in our immediate area, as a co-worker said multiple trees were knocked down near his home.

Tornadoes did strike in the NE part of the state, such as near Starkville, home to Mississippi State University. The city and campus were without power much of yesterday, and they have had to rearrange final exams.

State-wide paper said death toll is at 32 so far, likely to rise. Cite your sources.

Lots of videos going around the Net, but The Atlantic pictures are heart-stopping.
posted by fijiwriter at 7:14 AM on April 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Atlanta proper is pretty much fine. You don't get serious damage until you get north toward Cartersville, for those familiar.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:15 AM on April 28, 2011

IDK if it's the same storm system, but last night we got a tornado and a bitching thunderstorm all the way up here. Some of the lower areas flooded.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:17 AM on April 28, 2011

*tornado watch.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:17 AM on April 28, 2011

Just watches and a lot of wind in Charleston. To the point where I was having fun driving over the bridges to get to work.

And the normal amount of flooding that Charleston gets when it rains a lot. Just got to that point faster than it usually does.
posted by theichibun at 7:27 AM on April 28, 2011

Tornados are fickle beasts. I never even lost power at my house, where it did little more than rain hard for a couple of hours.

But the same storm took out half of a commercial rental property I own -- went through it like a buzzsaw, collapsed a truck bay like crumpled paper, even rearranged the semis parked in the yard. I'm on my way there now to meet with my insurance adjuster. Fortunately no one was hurt.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:33 AM on April 28, 2011 [7 favorites]

East Tennessee checking in. There have been a handful of deaths (Knoxville News Sentinel cites 16, mostly in Greene and Bradley Counties) and there's a LOT of property damage. There aren't many of us from East TN, but we are very likely all OK.
posted by workerant at 7:35 AM on April 28, 2011

Clarksville, TN and parts West checking in here. As some of you might recall we had a hell of a time with these storms a while back; and we got another "mini-flood" this week, just a few days shy of the anniversary of last year's. But it's nowhere near as bad-- a few roads flooded, the Riverwalk underwater, some tornado and storm damage, a lot of trees down (including one on my roof!) There will be lots of cleanup and at least one person I know had their apartment complex flooded but no fatalities, thank goodness. The biggest problem is some parts of town have been without power for upwards of five days, thanks to storms every day and every night.
posted by WidgetAlley at 7:39 AM on April 28, 2011

The tornado warning in Baltimore just expired, but no actual tornados in Maryland so far.
posted by electroboy at 7:41 AM on April 28, 2011

Yup, east TN, only minor property damage.
posted by heatvision at 7:41 AM on April 28, 2011

BitterOldPunk was posting on twitter late last night. Here's hoping he'll be in soon to report.
posted by immlass at 7:49 AM on April 28, 2011

East central GA was spared the brunt of it; lots of rain and lightning but relatively little winds. Northwest GA seems to have been hardest hit.
posted by TedW at 7:58 AM on April 28, 2011

In Conyers (about 20 miles due east of downtown Atlanta) we got some high winds and heavy rains, but not much else. I lived in Tulsa for a few years, I've seen enough tornadoes for one lifetime.
posted by ralan at 8:03 AM on April 28, 2011

This was the Tuscaloosa tornado.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:13 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

My little brother lives in Tuscaloosa. The path of the tornado was about a mile away from his apartment complex.
posted by phunniemee at 8:57 AM on April 28, 2011

I simply cannot imagine a tornado one mile wide.
posted by Glinn at 8:59 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Central Georgia--we lost power, but the worst of the storm nearby passed just east of us, with two deaths in a neighboring town...
posted by kittenmarlowe at 9:35 AM on April 28, 2011

Wow, and I just talked to the little bro in Tuscaloosa. It missed his place, but the apartment he lived in just a few months ago was completely destroyed. Holy crap. Thankfully he's fine.
posted by phunniemee at 9:39 AM on April 28, 2011

BitterOldPunk checked in above, but we've gotten a couple of messages from MeFites since, so: we were very lucky, and came through unscathed apart from damage to a property that no-one was in at the time. Didn't even lose power.
posted by elizard at 9:44 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oops, missed that. That's what happens when you have windows open and leave them without previewing/checking new posts for a long time while you step away from the machine. Glad everybody is OK!
posted by immlass at 9:52 AM on April 28, 2011

It's okay! It was touching to get messages this morning pointing to this thread, and know that y'all were thinking of us.
posted by elizard at 10:06 AM on April 28, 2011

Yay, elizard & BOP are okay. We're okay here in WNC as well, the mountains tend to defuse tornadoes. Lot of thunder and lightning and rain, though. Oh and I'm happy to report that Theo the Neurotic Meteorology Dog loves loves loves his thundershirt (previously) and now goes to get it when he starts getting freaked out. He wore it most of last night. The xanax helps too - helps us all, holy xanax does, yes indeed.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:09 AM on April 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

Auburn, Al - rain and gusty winds. We've had at least two worse storms so far this year (hail, much worse rain and wind blowing down a bunch of trees).
posted by hydrobatidae at 10:31 AM on April 28, 2011

I couldn't believe it when I got up this morning. When I went to bed, the news said something like "At least 10 people killed," and when I got up it said "At least 200 people killed." I literally did a double-take at my laptop screen.

I don't always remember who lives where (you all live in my computer, I know that much), so I've been sending out generalized "Please be okay, everybody!" vibes. And I'm glad y'all are checking in.
posted by rtha at 10:39 AM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Lost power here for about 14 hours, but was able to stay online almost normally via laptop battery and cell-phone tethering. Could have easily gone another couple days if needed, at least if the cell phone towers stayed up. Not sure how long their batteries last.

No showers, no cooking, but I had the important bit working. :-)
posted by Malor at 11:15 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Montgomery here.

One of my oldest friends is a nurse at the main hospital in Tuscaloosa. She described the scene as apocalyptic, with an endless stream of bloodied people stumbling in half-dressed through all hours of the night. She said most of Tuscaloosa just isn't there any longer.

I work for a company that operates affordable housing in the Southeast. One of our communities west of Birmingham was completely destroyed, leaving 150 families homeless in an instant. Thankfully there were no causalities, but all the already-desperately-poor families lost everything they did have in an instant.

I'm not sure I have ever seen anything quite as frightening as the site of a mile-wide tornado barreling toward downtown Birmingham. The devastation here is far and away worse than anything I've ever seen from any storm in this state.
posted by jefficator at 11:23 AM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for sharing my update, FB. Still without power, still on a cell. Could be this way for days, as an Alabama Power substation was hit.

I haven't dared venture near the affected areas, but the few images and videos I've seen are unbelievable: Big Picture successor In Focus, YouTube video of a guy close to the twister in the mall parking lot.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:42 AM on April 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh, and for what it's worth, that's the first time I've ever been genuinely scared of weather. The lightning started going absolutely insane, turning into a continuous roll of thunder. I checked the weather alerts, and saw that a tornado warning had been issued for my county. Then the wind started getting gusty, and I heard a strange, loud noise that I still can't characterize. Being a California native, I have no idea what tornadoes sound like, but I grabbed blankets and ran like hell for the bathtub.

The wind got crazy, crazy intense, the power went out, the lightning was flashing constantly, and I became truly frightened of weather for the first time. Now, I've seen some fairly intense weather before. I once drove through an extraordinary lightning and rain storm, one where visibility dropped to zero and lightning hit an overpass I had passed under about three seconds before. No real danger, but that made me pretty nervous. And I once rode out the remnants of a hurricane in North Florida, in a motorhome, without ever really being worried. 'Torrential rain' doesn't begin to cover it, but that was kind of fun, actually.

But sitting in a well-built house, in an interior bathroom with blankets over my head, listening to the wind screaming and howling around the eaves, water pounding on the windows, with flash after flash after flash of lightning, so fast that the thunder never really died down, was not fun at all.

There were indeed a couple tornado touchdowns in the vague general area, but nothing truly close. There was substantial localized damage and a death or two, but nothing at all like Alabama.

Just the edge of the intense stuff here, and simply thinking about what happened is enough to raise my blood pressure a little. My heart goes out to any of you more badly affected.
posted by Malor at 11:44 AM on April 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I'm in Starkville - it was scary.
posted by patheral at 12:01 PM on April 28, 2011

Malor, people often describe the sound of a tornado being just like a freight train. It's like, take away the feel of a freight train but keep the sound, and that's what a tornado sounds like.
posted by cooker girl at 12:10 PM on April 28, 2011

One of our communities west of Birmingham was completely destroyed, leaving 150 families homeless in an instant.

Was that Pratt City, by any chance? I've been seeing pictures of that area this morning, and, damn. Total devastation.

I just got off the phone with my insurance guy. After we got business out of the way, he told me that in his 20 years of handling claims in Birmingham, this is by far the worst disaster, in terms of amount of damage and in how widespread it was, that he's ever seen.

We're gathering some basic supplies like toothbrushes and blankets and stuff to drop off at a Red Cross center nearby.

And it's an eerily beautiful bright sunny day today.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:10 PM on April 28, 2011

Oh, and add in the sounds of houses breaking apart and trees being uprooted. It's a really horrible sound.
posted by cooker girl at 12:11 PM on April 28, 2011

video of a guy close to the twister in the mall parking lot


I'm only at the 4:00 minute point, and I'm about to hyperventilate myself into unconsciousness.
posted by FelliniBlank at 12:14 PM on April 28, 2011

OH, and if any of you remember sthig, he's in Helena, AL and fine, but without at least cable if not power. I haven't heard from him in a little while but he was okay last night long after the worst had passed out of Alabama.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:16 PM on April 28, 2011

Whew, the video's on YouTube, so you know the videographer lived through it, but geez, I was worried for him anyhow -- and everyone else in the paths of those monsters.
posted by FelliniBlank at 12:19 PM on April 28, 2011

YouTube video of a guy close to the twister in the mall parking lot yt .

That is breathtakingly terrifying.
posted by rtha at 12:29 PM on April 28, 2011

Wait. So after just sitting in his car as a half-mile-wide funnel steadily advances towards his position, at 6" the guy actually turns the car around to go chase it down? Did I just see that?
posted by likeso at 12:48 PM on April 28, 2011

My buddy is a meteorologist for a MS state agency, and here's a good map that has click-able icons to see reported damage/events. Yes, it's centered on MS, but you can change the radar station and date/time.

Click me.
posted by fijiwriter at 12:53 PM on April 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Last night I was on a camping trip with a group of fourth graders when the tornado warning came in so we all ended up huddled in the boys' bathroom while half of them cried and the other half made fun of the ones who were crying until the Dads who were helping chaperone and I got them all singing This Land Is Your Land and Puff the Magic Dragon (at which point I cried but they were okay with that by then). Actually it was a super fun trip but I was not anticipating having seven or eight sobbing children clinging to me.

I also have to be careful how I explain this to people as saying "I ended up spending the evening in the boys' bathroom but the Dads were fantastic" might give the wrong impression.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:15 PM on April 28, 2011 [8 favorites]

I have all of you in my prayers. Hoping you and all your loved ones stay safe, dear storm-tossed MeFians!
posted by Lynsey at 1:17 PM on April 28, 2011

Malor, people often describe the sound of a tornado being just like a freight train. It's like, take away the feel of a freight train but keep the sound, and that's what a tornado sounds like.

I've heard that too, but I've heard other people say that's total bullshit. All I know is that I've never heard a sound that I KNOW was from a tornado. So tornado warning + weird, unidentified sound = me scampering for shelter.

The thing I heard was probably too short to be a tornado... I think it may have been a nearby lightning bolt. If you're close enough, they sound a lot like tearing cloth. (which is something I HAVE heard.) But for whatever reason, this particular sound didn't stick in my memory, so it will be forever unidentified.
posted by Malor at 1:23 PM on April 28, 2011


I was yelling at him afterward for seeing the wreckage of a house, and just driving away. He didn't even check if anyone needed help! I wanted to throttle him. Yeah, you're scared, but imagine how fucking terrified someone must be that's INSIDE THE WRECKAGE OF THAT HOUSE.

Left me infuriated.
posted by Malor at 1:27 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Way the fuck up in Ontario here, but we had a big squall line come in off the lake, the advance guard of that weather system heading up north I guess. We are the highest point for miles around and were in the direct track of it.

I was playing my guitar out in my steel outbuilding which is set up as a rehearsal space, and had just turned off the amps and PA because it was starting to thunder when there was an intense FLASH and really big spark sound at the exact same moment. Then the instant sound of thunder.

I'd just been struck by lightning. Or rather the shed had. But it acted as a Faraday Cage and sucked it all right into the ground without doing any damage.

I sat there shaking for a couple of minutes, and then out of the downpour my 7-year old son who was home sick from school appeared in pajamas and coat, drenched, and told me that the strike had taken out the computer he'd been playing Minecraft on in the house, which is a couple of hundred feet away. As far as I can tell it fritzed the video card, but didn't trigger the full-on surge protector I wired into the panel.

It also crashed every other computer in the house, plus the satellite system and various routers etc, but as far as I can tell the iMac was the only casualty.

I'm really glad I wasn't standing there on a damp floor playing guitar through an amp with questionable grounding and singing into a mic attached to a PA system when it happened.
posted by unSane at 1:40 PM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I should have said that the sound information came from my mother, who grew up in rural Mississippi. She sat out several tornadoes in the storm cellar on the farm where she grew up.
posted by cooker girl at 1:40 PM on April 28, 2011

Can anyone tell me how Marion, Alabama fared? (Tiny town somewhere between Selma and Montgomery.)

As for me, I was just standing in line at the bank for work when we had a tornado warning upon which I almost just burst into tears. Thankfully in our case nothing much came of it but we are still sitting under a tornado watch till 9 tonight.

Oh, fwiw we talked to a woman right after our big storm a couple of weeks ago. "Our" tornado was more like a big roar than a freight train. Maybe some of them sound different, I dunno.

Still waiting to hear from some friends whose last posts on FB last night were from their basements. I am telling myself they just lost power and can't post....
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:46 PM on April 28, 2011

Pony request: Since this is a real community and not just a weblog/forum, we tend to worry about our fellow MeFites whenever there are disasters in their regions. Is there any way to streamline the "I'm OK" check in process? It probably isn't necessary to take it as far as building a new MetaFilter feature, but perhaps a wiki page with a link from the main MetaTalk page?

I'm thinking maybe something subdivided by disaster/incident (or group of disasters like "Spring 2011 U.S. Tornadoes") in reverse chronological order, with a list of MeFites affected/potentially affected by each disaster and brief notes about whether each person has checked in and their status with links to the relevant MetaFilter threads and comments.

I would volunteer to set this up but I have waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much on my plate right now and I still owe y'all that wiki page about popular AskMe book recommendations. :(
posted by Jacqueline at 1:51 PM on April 28, 2011

I forget her MeFi username, but @JonelB on Twitter is okay; she was talking last night about not having power at school.
posted by mrbill at 1:55 PM on April 28, 2011

Knoxville, TN...We had an attack of hailstones as big as the palm of my hand last night. I can't begin to describe the sound; 'deafening' hardly does it justice. I spent some time crouching in a doorway, but fortunately sustained no damage, although there were several cracked windshields and the like in the neighborhood.

This afternoon, on the other hand, is the most beautiful day we've had all year.
posted by frobozz at 1:57 PM on April 28, 2011

I hope everyone is all right. The pictures are horrifying...
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:09 PM on April 28, 2011

This afternoon, on the other hand, is the most beautiful day we've had all year.
posted by frobozz at 3:57 PM on April 28 [+] [!]

Ironic, isn't it? I was thinking the same thing this afternoon...
posted by patheral at 2:13 PM on April 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

"When I went to bed, the news said something like "At least 10 people killed," and when I got up it said "At least 200 people killed." I literally did a double-take at my laptop screen."

When I went to bed last night, the headline on Google News was "20 Dead in Southern Storms; Detroit Expects Moderate Rain."

To be fair, it was from the Detroit News, it just seemed horrifically blithe.
posted by klangklangston at 2:13 PM on April 28, 2011

Jesus fucking shitweasels, what the hell is all this apocalyptic crap all about? :( glad everyone here is ok and sorry about the horrible catastrophe :(
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:31 PM on April 28, 2011

Malor, people often describe the sound of a tornado being just like a freight train. It's like, take away the feel of a freight train but keep the sound, and that's what a tornado sounds like.
If anyone is ever in Darwin, Australia, there is a special room at the museum there that is totally soundproof and totally dark (not even emergency exit lighting) and, as soon as the door closes behind you, a sound recording made during the worst of Cyclone Tracy starts up and quickly grows to a terrifying level. It's like nothing I've ever experienced and I can't even describe the noise. The recording was made inside a house and, over the shrieking wind, you can hear things banging constantly against the side of the house. You can also hear, in the distance, big things banging around. If you've ever read Stephen King's The Mist, it kind of felt like that. To sit through that for hours must have been unbelievably terrifying.

I'm glad to hear from those that are OK and my thoughts are with those that haven't checked in yet.
posted by dg at 2:58 PM on April 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

BitterOldPunk: "And it's an eerily beautiful bright sunny day today."

It seems every time I look at photos of the aftermath of such devastation that that is true. It's like something is laughing at us puny humans.
posted by deborah at 3:06 PM on April 28, 2011

Just some wind and water here in the shadow of Stone Mountain, but I spent the night operating World Watch One for friends in Cherokee and Pickens counties. They reported some hail near Talking Rock and some downed trees but no property damage or injuries thankfully.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:22 PM on April 28, 2011

It seems every time I look at photos of the aftermath of such devastation that that is true. It's like something is laughing at us puny humans.

I thought there was an actual meteorological explanation for this: tornadoes are most likely to occur where a cold front is pushing an area of warm, humid air out of the way. Cold fronts are the leading edge of high pressure systems, which usually bring clear skies.
posted by FishBike at 3:34 PM on April 28, 2011

Another East Tennessean checking in. I was up half the night since we were in the warning zone for parts of it, but luckily my town was fine. Greene county got hit harder than we did, though. Poor Greeneville- April has not been a good month for them. I think the storms we had earlier this month took down most of the trees that were going to come down-unless an actual tornado or microburst hit.
posted by Mouse Army at 3:45 PM on April 28, 2011

Nowhere near tornadoes, but it's been consistent 30+ mph winds in my neck of the woods. I think this is just what Earth with 600ppm CO2 is going to look like. And it's nasty.
posted by ofthestrait at 4:12 PM on April 28, 2011

Having been thru hurricanes I can assure y'all that the day after a hurricane (or tornado) is usually the prettiest clearest day you could ever have. It's just always that way.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:12 PM on April 28, 2011

Having been thru hurricanes I can assure y'all that the day after a hurricane (or tornado) is usually the prettiest clearest day you could ever have. It's just always that way.

The day after Nature beats the crap out of you, she always brings flowers and candy.
posted by dilettante at 4:45 PM on April 28, 2011 [5 favorites]

It was like that after Ike hit Houston in 2008, lovely weather for days afterwards.

Thinking of y'all, hope everyone is OK.
posted by arcticseal at 5:16 PM on April 28, 2011

The first responder carrying the child in the back of the pick-up truck hit me so hard. These rural firefighters, they're my people. Jesus. Grieving for those who lost loved ones, grateful for those who are okay.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 6:21 PM on April 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Northern VA checking in here, though I was in PA for most of it with a broken car.. luckily Hwin had another car capable of towing our camper at the ready- she outdrove the storms from nova to pa. Her first solo emergency trip, too. Spent a night in Williamsport to full electrical spectacle, and driving back own today, there's some standing water and a lot of road grinding and repaving.
posted by arrjay at 7:27 PM on April 28, 2011

Atlanta metro here. I was pretty damn scared, mostly because my 18 year old daughter was within a few miles of the biggest northwest GA tornado, and was texting me for updates to share with the other 5 people hanging out in her basement bedroom. We're all fine, and I'm thankful for the check-ins from other Mefites. This has been a helluva storm system.
posted by notashroom at 7:54 PM on April 28, 2011

Alia's totally right about the post hurricane weather. Something to do with the high pressure after the extreme low of the 'cane.
posted by BeerFilter at 8:23 PM on April 28, 2011

Heard on the news that more than 300 are thought to have died. My thoughts are with our American friends, and here's hoping for a quick rebuilding of lives.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:26 AM on April 29, 2011

Update: Drove through town yesterday to get some (non-perishable) groceries and survey the damage. It's just terrible in some places, like a nuclear bomb went off. Traffic was a snarl, trees uprooted, buildings destroyed left and right. I managed to get some pictures going by off my phone:

Missing roof
Debris field
Wrecked house
Broken facade
Smashed building

It's like that over a wide swath of town -- the path the twister cut is clearly visible from the air. If you're familiar with the area, you can see the approximate track of the main tornado on this Google map. The path it took was actually the best possible one for that part of the city -- at the center of the marked corridor, it sliced right between the Midtown Village shopping center and the McFarland mall to the south (the X-shaped complex, where that video I linked upthread was shot), and the DCH Regional Medical Center just to the north, which is the primary hospital for this part of the state. If it had erred south, the economic impact would have been much greater, and I can't even imagine how much more disastrous things would be had it hit DCH. Still an utter tragedy, of course -- you know things are bad when the president comes to town.

Thankfully, nobody I know suffered any injuries or serious damage. It was looking like the biggest issue for this part of town would be electricity (calling Alabama Power informed me "the outage in your area will be repaired by 6:00 PM... of May 2nd"), but the lights snapped back on at four this morning, hence why I'm awake right now (just in time for the royal wedding!!!!11). It's amazing how quickly infrastructure has recovered, considering how many critical systems were hit (electric substation, two water towers, the emergency management building, for chrissakes). There are still going to be long-term disruptions, though -- the main drag here (McFarland Boulevard) was cut in half, and enough damage was caused near the University of Alabama to cancel classes for the rest of the semester and push commencement back to August. Then again, I guess we're lucky we still have the University -- it got pretty close to the campus, too.

Going tomorrow to donate some spare clothes and food and maybe give blood -- stay safe everyone, and please do anything you can to help folks out down here.
posted by Rhaomi at 3:47 AM on April 29, 2011

Also: Just watched the aforementioned mall parking lot video for the first time on a computer as opposed to a tiny cellphone screen. That thing was fucking monstrous, and way too damn close. I can't believe that guy didn't get impaled by something, especially after rolling the window down with the twister right in front of him. Christ.
posted by Rhaomi at 4:00 AM on April 29, 2011

Wow, I guess this area was hit a lot worse than I thought. (I'm near Chattanooga). I'd been checking in on the Times Free Press, and they only mentioned the Tennessee damage at the time. But now they're saying 78 total deaths in the area all around here, most just over the state line in Georgia. From that NY times graphic, it looks like there were five or six tornadoes that hit VERY close by. Starting in my driveway, I can be in the center of Ringgold in like 15 minutes.

Power here was only knocked out for about 14 hours, and it's looking like I'm exceptionally lucky. I'm perfectly fine here, no damage to the house, and the brush crews have already picked up the downed tree limbs I'd gathered. There was probably enough to fill a pickup truck bed about halfway. It didn't take me long to drag them where they needed to be, maybe fifteen total minutes, and I didn't need tools or anything. The biggest branch was probably about eight feet long, with the usual offshoots. It was probably about 3 inches in diameter at the base, and maybe forty or fifty total pounds, enough so that I dragged it instead of carrying it. It hit the ground very close to my neighbor's car; it would have either left a hell of a dent in the roof, or broken a window, if it had fallen one foot further from the tree.

There's still about 75,000 EPB customers without power. I got off really, really easy.

I was starting to feel pretty foolish for being as frightened as I was when that storm came through. I don't normally react like that to weather, it just doesn't bother me much. I thought maybe I was getting wimpy in my old age. But no, it looks like I wasn't overreacting at all. Cowering in the bathtub like a big baby was exactly the right thing to do.
posted by Malor at 6:06 AM on April 29, 2011

I joke sometimes that we need another Sherman but this isn't what I meant. Glad to hear people are doing OK and if there's anything a broke artist in Chicago can do let me know.
posted by jtron at 7:27 AM on April 29, 2011

Yes, Malor, it was absolutely the right thing to do. My parents and brothers are in Fort Oglethorpe and Catoosa County is just a wreck, they have been manning Red Cross shelters and it looks like they will have to keep it up for a while.
posted by stormygrey at 7:27 AM on April 29, 2011

Malor, you did the right thing - in East Texas, many homes in rural areas have cement underground shelters (think bomb shelters) and my family often practiced drills and switched out the canning, batteries and water every summer when we hauled in crops and started the canning, freezing and preserving for the year.

We also kept a twin mattress in a hall closet and would do practice drills to see how fast we could grab it and throw ourselves into the central bathtub.

To this day, every time I move I make sure there's a small, central room with no windows (bathroom, closet or otherwise) that can serve as an impromptu tornado shelter. Even so, you might end up like Ashley Harrison. According to local reports, she and her boyfriend and roommate all took shelter, but her boyfriend couldn't hold onto her hand as they were thrown from their home; he survived, but she did not. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by this devastation; it's something I'm quite familiar with, and my family was huddling in their hallway Tuesday night for the third time this week when a tornado struck Mabank, Texas. If anyone has suggestions or links to charities where we could make donations, please post them.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 7:57 AM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Power's back on in Decatur, Alabama, too. I imagine that means that Browns Ferry is back up and running after repairs to the transmission lines.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:09 AM on April 29, 2011

On the radio and in print accounts, I keep hearing/reading people talk about huddling in their bathtubs. Stupid question: are basements just really uncommon in houses in Tuscaloosa?
posted by rtha at 8:23 AM on April 29, 2011

Here in Memphis Thursday was the first day this week we *didn't* have any thunderstorms, tornado warnings, and crazy high winds, so I was very sad to hear about what happened in AL. I'm very lucky in that I live in an 8-story apartment building, but there has been a ton of property damage from downed trees, lots of flash flooding, and many, many power outages all over the area over the past several weeks.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:24 AM on April 29, 2011

rtha, I can't totally speak for Tuscaloosa but I can tell you that basements are not a common feature of Southern homes in general. I know here where I live very few homes have them.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:28 AM on April 29, 2011

University of Alabama student on campus here. Just got power restored in the dorms this morning after being out since about 8PM Wednesday night. Most of us on campus got to see the one mile wide tornado in person, but it did miss us thankfully.

As far as I can tell the campus itself is fine, no real damage here that I could find in my short walks around the area save for a few trees missing limbs.
posted by Chan at 8:33 AM on April 29, 2011

We also kept a twin mattress in a hall closet and would do practice drills to see how fast we could grab it and throw ourselves into the central bathtub.

I didn't think of Tennessee as 'tornado country', but this is the second time tornadoes have hit here in the last few months. Some big apartment building got about half-destroyed not long ago at all. I'm starting to think some basic tornado prep may be in order.

For whatever reason, I thought that was mostly a Midwest thing, Oklahoma/Arkansas/Texas. Didn't think they really got this far east.

I wonder if they have tornado sirens out here? I don't even know what one sounds like.
posted by Malor at 8:43 AM on April 29, 2011

Obama is less than three miles from me, but traffic is so fucked between here to there (judging from yesterday, plus today's roadblocks) that there's no way to get over there in time to take a look. At least I'm not like the Jefferson County rep they just had on the news, grousing that he and his area wasn't getting a personal visit.

Chan, can you get to the Rosedale Courts area? I heard on Twitter that's one of the last stops on the motorcade tour. Could be a neat opportunity out of all this mess to meet the POTUS, if you can get there soon.

Malor, we do have sirens here that they test weekly -- here's video of the siren going off for the storm that came through on the 15th.
posted by Rhaomi at 9:01 AM on April 29, 2011

Yeah, I would have heard something like that for sure, so I guess Tennessee must not have them. Might be time to start thinking about some, sheesh.

Thanks much for tracking down the link for me.

I'm not seeing anything about local charity needs at all, is there anywhere to find out?
posted by Malor at 9:08 AM on April 29, 2011

Malor: "I didn't think of Tennessee as 'tornado country', but this is the second time tornadoes have hit here in the last few months."

I live just a few miles from where the Greenback tornado struck; my neighborhood was littered with window screens, roof shingles, insulation and chunks of OSB, drywall and insulation afterward. Tornadoes are rare in the mountains (where I live - yay!) but not especially uncommon in the the flatter parts. Jackson, in Middle Tennessee, got clobbered in the Super Tuesday, 2008 tornado outbreak. Tennessee is definitely in 'tornado country.'
posted by workerant at 9:10 AM on April 29, 2011

Oh, and I've never seen (or heard) a tornado siren in Tennessee. They do, however, have OMFG-RUN! sirens around the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Complex.
posted by workerant at 9:18 AM on April 29, 2011

For Mefighters who haven't seen it, there was a post over on MefightClub by SneakyArab; the Tuscaloosa tornado missed his apartment by 100 yards. (The pictures are right outside his apartment.)
posted by Upton O'Good at 9:28 AM on April 29, 2011

Hmm, mefightclub is throwing me a server error.

Thanks, St. Alia. I haven't spent much time in houses in the South (my in-laws in Charlottesville live in an old house that kind of has a basement, kind of, and that's the southern house I'm most familiar with.)
posted by rtha at 9:39 AM on April 29, 2011

Malor, here's a list of tornadoes in Tennessee, by county,from 1950-1995. Not incredibly common, but not unheard of by a long stretch, either. This lists tornadoes from 1995 to the present. Stay safe!
posted by rtha at 9:42 AM on April 29, 2011

Stay safe, I'm glad everyone commenting in this thread is able to do so.
posted by marxchivist at 9:50 AM on April 29, 2011

There are no basements here in Starkhell (Starkville), MS because the water table is so high. Can't build one unless the house is on a hill. So the best we can do is huddle in a hallway or closet and hope for the best. That's what I did anyway. I was in the stairwell since it the *only* place in our house that has no windows/doors or anything. The bathrooms are on an outside wall...

Honestly every house I've lived in here is just a deathtrap in a tornado...
posted by patheral at 10:43 AM on April 29, 2011

In Memphis it seems like there is a siren on nearly every fire house and school. Near both my office and my home the sirens are so loud they interfere with conversation. A number of times this week I found myself wondering how the fire fighters stand it. Lucky for me, the worst part of the tornado marathon this week was the noise of the sirens and the PA telling us to keep away from windows and head for the first floor if you can do so without getting near the windows - the building is 80% glass. I stayed at my desk.

The pictures from The Atlantic are moving. That first responder holding the child in the back of the pick up doesn't appear to be much more than a child himself.
posted by Carbolic at 11:48 AM on April 29, 2011

Malor, the Chattanooga Red Cross might be a good charity to look into if you are cool with them.
posted by stormygrey at 12:36 PM on April 29, 2011

Middle Tennessee here, Murfreesboro to be exact, and things got torn up around town, a couple of small touchdowns they say, but nobody seriously hurt it looks like. We definitely have sirens around. Never heard them growing up, but they seem to have appeared while I was away for 12 years or so. MTSU has them around campus it seems.

Farther south close to the Alabama line in Franklin County is where my family is from, I haven't got full reports from everyone there yet, I know they had fairly extensive power outages. My uncle's father-in-law was killed, but not directly from the storm - he decided to try and clear the gutters during a lull and fell off the roof in a gust of wind. Really needless, and the family is pretty torn up about it. I'll just say what everyone's thinking - If it's storming, stay inside.
posted by pupdog at 3:34 PM on April 29, 2011

There are no basements here in Starkhell (Starkville), MS because the water table is so high. Can't build one unless the house is on a hill. So the best we can do is huddle in a hallway or closet and hope for the best. That's what I did anyway. I was in the stairwell since it the *only* place in our house that has no windows/doors or anything. The bathrooms are on an outside wall...

In grade school, we had tornado drills, and what they did was shag us all to the first floor and have us sit cross-legged facing the lockers in the hallway. (Similarly glass-free.) In some cases, they told us to pull our jackets over our heads and make a little tent for ourselves, or at least kind of make ourselves into a ball like an armadillo. To protect from flying debris.

The idea is that the building's walls would protect us from the really giant flying debris, and the crouching and covering would protect us from smaller shards that might be whipping around.

Also, by being up against a wall, if the building were to collapse, the safest place is in that lower corner up against a load bearing wall. It would tend to create a sort of triangle of protection.
posted by gjc at 4:29 PM on April 29, 2011

If you look at the average yearly tornadoes by state from 1950-1995 (scroll a bit for a color-coded version), Tennessee is definitely a 3rd-tier state, but this list of U.S. Tornado Fatalities between 1975-2007 ranks Tennessee 6th out of 50. Apparently, Tennessee doesn't get them often, but they're especially deadly when they do show up. Finally, this page looks at the difficulty in defining "Tornado Alley," with relevance to Tennessee:

The 1974 super tornado outbreak took place in Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. How many maps include these states in Tornado Alley? Not very many, some don’t include any of them; even I don’t include all of them. States such as Florida also have many small tornadoes but because the intensity of most of them is low, it is seldom considered as part of Tornado Alley by anyone. In 1925 the Tri-State tornado killed 695 people in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, yet many don’t include these in Tornado Alley, I do. In November 2002 a tornado outbreak took place in Alabama, Tennessee and Ohio, Killing at least 36 people. Friday, September 20th 2002 a tornado outbreak hit Indiana, I include these states in Tornado Alley, others don't. History tells me Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee are dangerous tornado states.
posted by mediareport at 6:28 PM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

in East Texas, many homes in rural areas have cement underground shelters (think bomb shelters)
Not in my part. Our flood table is too high or something, I think? I'm in the northeast/ArkLaTex region, and it's probably different in other parts of East Texas (it's still weird to me that the sub-region of "East Texas" is significantly larger than some entire states). This was my first tornado experience ever (I'm a Yankee by birth, and though I've lived here ten years, this town rarely has tornadoes happen; we've had watches before but not actual tornadoes). The air raid sirens went off and I went into nuclear drill mode, which thankfully happens to be the correct response for tornadoes too - the hallway of our house can be closed off from all the other rooms, has no outside walls, etc., and is generally exactly what Protect & Survive tells you to use as a fallout room. I spent about half an hour huddled under my heaviest comforter in there, with my budgies' cage next to me, my cell phone, my partner's Nikon and a survival knife, only for my partner to call me from where he was working in Ruston to tell me that I was overreacting. He made it home safe as well.
posted by titus n. owl at 6:42 PM on April 29, 2011

Like mygothlaundry said, Western NC was protected by the mountains. 20 minutes east of Asheville, we just got some epic thundering and some small hail.

I'm glad that so many people survived...this could have been so much worse.
posted by schyler523 at 6:49 PM on April 29, 2011

Just spoke with my sister on the phone. There were big 100+ year-old trees uprooted less than a mile from her home. Yikes. Thankful to report that all my Alabama family are fine.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:57 PM on April 29, 2011

I was in my hometown of Yazoo City, MS (same as Haley Barbour) and we had some tense hours, hail, and high winds, but luckily did not get hit this time. (It would have been eerie after the storms almost exactly a year ago)

2010 was rough...2011 is looking to be rougher.
posted by nile_red at 7:08 PM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for taking the time to scare that up, mediareport. I definitely learned something. nile_red's last two links are also interesting.

I guess I just never realized how extreme weather gets east of the Mississippi. California got lots of rain, but you almost never saw lightning there; an actual lightning storm in California was BIG NEWS. (a picture of a large multi-part lightning bolt hitting downtown Santa Rosa made the papers all over the area -- I think it was on the front page even in the South Bay.) The electrical systems there aren't designed for lightning, and if it actually does strike, it does terrible damage to electronic devices in a large area.

When it hailed, it was never much bigger than pebbles anywhere that I lived, and never did any substantial damage. And in the entire time I spent there (about thirty years), I remember ONE nearby tornado report, and I don't think it even touched down.

Everyone says, "Oh, but earthquakes!" But I only felt three, maybe four earthquakes the entire time I was there, and only Loma Prieta in '89 was enough to truly say, "Yes, this is an earthquake" -- it lasted a couple of minutes, and was sending great waves rolling through the ground in the area I was in. (and lemme tell ya, that is seriously weird; it's a shame phone video recording wasn't invented yet, 'cause I'd have a HELL of a YouTube video for you.) But other than a couple of minutes that reminded me of a rollercoaster ride (exhilarating, but totally safe where I was) it barely affected me. Someday the Big One will really mess up a lot of lives and seriously screw that state over, but if the Japan earthquake is any indication (and if California's building codes are anywhere near the same standards), it won't actually kill or injure that many people directly. And I don't think California's likely to get a tsunami, because the San Andreas is a slippage fault, not a subduction zone like Japan's.

The East has it a lot worse than the West, and you guys are right to snicker at Californians for being wimps, because we are. :-)
posted by Malor at 4:57 AM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Chattanooga here. I was lucky, without power for only a few hours, one small tree down on my fence. Some parts of town look like, well they look like a fucking tornado blew through. In this county of roughly 300,000, some people are being told to wait 8 to 10 days to two weeks before they'll have power back. Everybody knows someone who's lost everything. I know a guy whose house is gone, barn gone, livestock gone, neighbors dead.

On a lighter note, my neighborhood bar has been without power since Wednesday morning, but thanks to a gas kitchen, small generator, and plenty of ice, they've managed to stay open serving a full menu and pouring (mostly) cold beer. The credit card machine is also down, and a friend of mine was short on cash, so I picked up her tab. Not 15 minutes later, a guy walks in and gives me 10 pounds of venison from his powerless and thawing freezer.

Southerners are tough, we'll manage. But if you can spare a few bucks, there are definitely folks down here who could use a little help. The Red Cross are definitely the people on the ground doing the good work.
posted by lost_cause at 7:25 AM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

My cousin is a junior at the University of Alabama. I am happy to report that she's safe and sound.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:33 PM on April 30, 2011

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