The Calhoun County Gazette featuring local Calhoun County news of interest!

The Calhoun County Gazette of Calhoun County Alabama presents local news, sports, and features of interest about the area. It is dedicated to the people of Calhoun County and to others who would like to know more about us and the great opportunities for travel, fun, and business in our region.
 Feature Story 
Thanksgiving Tornado!
Calhoun County under the gun on the day before Thanksgiving...
By Norman Morrison

Click WPT 4 - 3 - 1 to see pictures.
Key: WPT 4; Lincoln I-20 Exit -WPT 5; Eastaboga I-20 Exit - WPT 2; Bynum - WPT 3; Bynum - WPT 1; Oxanna

--Dateline November 24, 2004
The Day Before Thanksgiving

November, the day before Thanksgiving will be remembered as the culmination of some seriously wrong weather for Calhoun County.
     For any time of year, the kind of weather we experienced this Thanksgiving week was different from any in living memory. For November, it was one of those millennium events...or at least I hope so.
     Typically, severe weather moves from west to east and you can set your watch for local trouble when you see it on the Mississippi/Alabama state line. After that, the next stops are Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Pell City, and then Calhoun County. When you see Tuscaloosa get hit, it's 4 hours to Calhoun County.
     It can come anytime, but it's more likely in the spring months, the first 12 days of December, or fairly rarely in the summer.
     Never November...generally.
     It's impossible to predict isolated summertime super cell movement.... That is, large Tstorms that crop up randomly. They can push themselves in any direction. Squall lines, however, are a lot more certain, and you can bet the farm on them. These are the creatures that produce the most destruction in the form of straight line winds and tornadoes, and this is what Calhoun County was facing on the Wednesday morning before Thanksgiving 2004.
     It began as a monster flood producing low pressure system over Texas that sat there for days generating rain. Then, when at last, it began its move to the east the previous Saturday, the statewide radars all lit up with solid medium rain from one end of the state to the other punctuated by globs of heavier downpours. Predicted occasional showers turned into day long rains.
     As the system moved into the state, it began to suck in cold air behind it, and it was the boundary between unseasonably warm weather in the high 60's and low 70's mixing with the colder seasonable air behind that was a mixture as explosive as gas and air. Something had to give...and it did.
    Around 6:45AM the line from the west had moved into the Riverside area on I-20. The weather boys had predicted that tornadoes could result, and even though there was some indication on radar that here and there rotation could be seen, it was little suspected that we were in any danger.
     Around 7AM the first indication of danger in the form of the now famous "couplet" popped up on the TV radars. On our home screens we could see the side-by-side red and green pixels denoting rotation in the clouds. One of the weather men said that he wouldn't normally be alarmed, due to the season and many other factors, but he was very worried about this particular signature. He was to be proven correct.
     One characteristic of our modern Doppler radars is that what you see is already history. The storm was at least 10 minutes ahead of the presentation. Shortly after 7AM, one TV station took a call from a man in the Riverside area who reported damage to boat houses. He thought he had witnessed a tornado. He said it had been a half hour.
    Allowing for human error, it was obvious that the radar image was lagging well behind. The lesson here is that you should always assume that bad weather is closer than it appears and you should plan ahead accordingly.
The banner picture above is a map of the area from the Lincoln exit on I-20 back to Oxford. It was generated using a Global Positioning Satellite device. The WPT's (waypoints) were entered where damage was seen to attempt to identify the path of the tornado. The blue line connects the points. You can see where the main part of the storm left I-20 and proceeded to Bynum and Anniston.

     In southern Calhoun County, there is a well known and historical storm path. Keeping in mind that storms don't know paths, geography, or your home address, more often than not, when you see a storm barreling down I-20 out of Birmingham, it will take a northeasterly turn somewhere between the Riverside exit and the 2nd Oxford exit. Where this happens dictates who is going to get hit. The exit point from the I-20 corridor is not important only to the Eastaboga-Oxford area, but also totowns like Jacksonville and Ohatchee too.
     West End in Anniston gets their share of these leftward jogs. That's one favored path. Much less popular is the Oxford path, but a well devastated one. Remember the Winn Dixie Tornado?
     The Pre-Thanksgiving tornado chose to get off at the Eastaboga exit shortly after 7AM.
     Because of the excessive rains, Calhoun County was an excellent target of choice for winds of any kind. Hardwoods simply have no holding power when the ground around their shallow roots gets soaked. It is a fact that due to logging practices, the best and biggest hardwoods are to be found around dwellings, so the woodlands seem to fare better than homes.
     By the time the rotation reached the Bynum area, it was either a weak tornado or a heavy mass of straight-line winds. Probably a combination of both. While you can somewhat dismiss a tornado when it comes to felled hardwoods, I believe topped and chopped pine tree tops is an excellent indicator of twister action.
     Residents of the Bynum area heard the train sound in the sky around 7:15AM. A great many fully mature hardwoods were bent and felled. One fell on a trailer and the person who lived there was killed.
     In the same area, pine trees were snapped and power poles felled. Traffic was shut off in the area where the old 202 meets the new one while crews worked to remove the trees and lines from the road. It looks like, at least, in this small area, there was a touch down.
     The storm moved along at a 45 mph clip, over Coldwater mountain, and possibly touched down again briefly in old Oxanna, the strip between Anniston and Oxford, destroying two businesses and damaging roofs on others. The last sign of destruction was some downed trees on Greenbrier.
     A great many more persons in Calhoun County are now members of the Tornado Club. The price of admission is that you have to be in one and lose your mind for the duration of the event. When the mind returns, it also brings with it a new found respect for the Weather Channel.


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