November, the day before Thanksgiving will be remembered as
the culmination of some seriously wrong weather for Calhoun
For any time of year, the kind of weather we
experienced this past 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'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 rain from one end of
the state to the others. 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
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 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 screen 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 proved correct.
One damning 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.
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 and who is not, and not only points close to the interstate
like Oxford, but also towns 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.
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
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 crushed. 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, 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 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.