The Furious Fall

Posted by .

If this were any other year, Charles “Sonnyman” Tune would be sifting through the attic of his garage, looking for Christmas decorations. But Tune doesn’t have a garage anymore. And what’s left of the attic was blown to the ground twenty feet away. Christmas memories that took years to collect — were sucked out in seconds.”(It was) just like a vacuum pulled through here. It demolished it all. What’s not gone was where stuff fell on it, and it just broke into pieces…”Instead of putting up the tree and ornaments, Tune and his son-in-law have been pulling out nails from the plywood that once made up the roof.

The November 10th winds that pulverized Tune’s Carbon Hill neighborhood were from a powerful force often dismissed this time of year, a tornado. The storms killed 11 people statewide, ten of whom lived within a five minutes drive of here. More than 50 were injured.

President George W. Bush declared the town (and other parts of the state) a disaster area. Call the FEMA state helpline for more information, 1-800-621-3362

Tune said he was surprised by the timing of the bad weather.

“I don’t reckon, I don’t ever remember a tornado like this or any kind of weather like this anytime in November. Never. Do you?”

Actually, a tornado isn’t so rare this time of year, said Brian Peters of the Birmingham’s National Weather Service.

“It is not as unusual as people might think. As a matter of fact, our worst tornadoes in Alabama for the last three years have come in the fall. Not in the Spring.”

The Warning Coordination Meteorologist said the past three Spring tornado seasons haven’t been very active.

“We’ve had a few, no more than what I would call a handful of tornadoes, tornadoes in the Spring. But our Falls have been horrendous.”

He cited the December 2000 tornado in Tuscaloosa that killed 11 people, many of whom lived in mobile homes. He also said a tornado outbreak in November of last year produced three-dozen twisters — a record number for one day in Alabama.

A complex formula makes a tornado, Peters said. In the fall, more weather systems make it to Alabama as the sun moves farther south. Within those systems, thunderstorms develop. Within the storms, rotation can occur. And a tornado forms from the rotation. While more than two-thirds of tornadoes are weak, a few, like the one on November 15, 1989, are monsters.

At about 4:30 in the afternoon, Elizabeth Bath of South Huntsville watched her elderly poodle named Coco go berserk over the bad weather outside.

“He hated storms…and he was always so fearful. And so, I thought — oh no, here he is again. There must be a really bad storm. So I thought I’ve done everything for the dog except pray. So I started praying.”

While Mrs. Bath prayed with Coco, the southern part of Huntsville was devestated by an F4 tornado, with winds up to 260 miles an hour.

After it was over, Bath’s house was damaged, her neighborhood almost wiped out and 21 people were dead. Many of the deaths occurred in cars just a few blocks away. The storm developed so fast, it caught a lot of people driving home in rush hour traffic off guard.

And if the bad weather weren’t enough, Bath and her neighbor, Sue Tidwell — whose house was also heavily damaged — remembered as vividly what happened after the storm.

“The weather changed so drastically. It had gotten so warm and still and the next day it was cold. We had snow. Remember? We had snow the next day. ”

That’s not an unusual characteristic of a severe weather system in the fall, the meteorologist, Brian Peters, said.

“And oftentimes you see that because the thunderstorms are developing in response to changes in the atmosphere. And usually extremely cold air is replacing extremely warm air.”

Peters underscored that many severe weather days in the late fall start out warm. On that day in 1989, highs were in the upper 70s across the state… two-and-a-half weeks ago — the day of the tornadoes in Carbon Hill and north Alabama — Birmingham hit 82. In both cases, the temperature plunged shortly after.

Peters and other forecasters say they hope the people who worry about cold and snow this time of year will remember what can happen before the temperatures drop.