As Big As the Sky Part 1: What Stands in a Storm

“What Stands in a Storm” book review

If you’ve read this blog before, you’re aware of the importance of April 27 and 28, 2011. It was a day that I’ll certainly never forget because of the 14 lives that were lost here in tornadoes that night and early morning. You can read more on that here. This blog is the start of a sequel to that, a four part series that I’ll produce either on Saturdays or Sundays during the month of April.

Much of that story starts in the state of Alabama, as I have friends who are way more than colleagues there who were involved in the same battle: Try to keep the people safe from these horrible storms. While it’s impossible to measure success or levels thereof with such things (unless no one dies), it’s clear that the storms were so bad down there that many, many more people should have perished that day. The work of meteorologists all over creation during that outbreak should honestly be rewarded in the highest way possible in this country. That’s not tooting my own horn, either. I’m part of a community of absolutely amazing individuals who sacrifice themselves every time there is even the smallest chance of severe weather to keep others safe from whatever is happening. I’m honored to be a very, very small part of that.

What Stands In A StormLast month, a book came out that caught my eye. I had no idea in the world that such a thing was in the works, but it looked interesting to me. I did remember an article that I’d read from Southern Living magazine a while back, that traced the stories of a few folks through that awful day. The book, “What Stands in a Storm” is an extension of that. Kim Cross, a journalist from Tuscaloosa whose work is seen in all sorts of magazines and newspapers all over creation, wrote both the article I read and the book. And both are simply superb.

This book represents a first for me. There are people in this book, who are still alive, that I know. The first one of those mentioned is James Spann, the Chief Meteorologist at ABC 33/40 in Birmingham. I’ve known James through online means for many years and was able to meet him at the National Weather Association meeting in Birmingham in 2011, and later for a weather/life advice meeting during a vacation week the next year. Look under the Weather Info tab for those stories. James and I think along the same wavelength on a lot of things, so it was good to see his story in the book. A lot of it he’s told on his online show Weatherbrains with the passage of time, but some of his story in the book wasn’t as well known.

Intertwined with his story is that of Jason Simpson. At the time, he was the morning meteorologist at 33/40, and Spann’s right hand man during severe weather coverage. That in itself is hard to do, because Jason’s was the early show: In the studio at 2 or 3, work through noon. So if there’s an outbreak that goes into the evening, life—mainly sleeping–can be quite difficult. In Jason’s case, the whole day started with an early morning severe weather event that nobody really saw coming. With the big event yet to come, the first round knocked out power to a quarter of a million people in Alabama. That brought Jason to say to one of his producers that mass casualties would happen if these storms hit big cities. A chilling statement to be sure. At separate times that day, both Jason and James would have to deal with awful weather headed toward their hometowns.

The other person I know from the book is Brian Peters. He is a retired WCM from the Birmingham National Weather Service office and one of the storm chasers for the same TV station where James Spann works. Brian is also on the Weatherbrains show, and was the man over the audio, video, and presentations at that meeting in 2011. Brian was chasing the storms on April 27 in Alabama, one of a great many who were out following these things, trying to provide James and Jason with videos of storms and tornadoes that were out there that day. At times there were multiple extremely dangerous tornadoes on the ground at the same time, and Brian, along with the other chasers did a good job keeping themselves safe while getting these awful storms on video so people could see what was going on and act appropriately.

Their experiences are just part of the book. Kim Cross detailed the stories of folks who tried to keep themselves and/or others safe from these storms, by doing what they’re supposed to do at times like that. It’s interesting to read those, because she includes the phone conversations and texts and person-to-person conversations between the main characters and each other, their parents, and random people in the community who were their friends, neighbors, or clients. These people weren’t only located in Tuscaloosa, but places like Smithville, Mississippi, Cordova, Alabama, and many places in the bullseye of where the worst storms hit.

Without giving away too many things, since I highly recommend the book and I think you should go get it and read it, I’ll leave off this report by telling you that if you don’t have tissues nearby, you should. This book contains very powerful moments in the lives of all these people that reduced me to tears many times. It also forced me to a little action, which is the reason why this is the start of a series not only about the book, but that is basically a sequel series to my April 27, 2011, blog (see link above) from a few months after the storms tore through the country.

Lastly, “What Stands in a Storm” includes a little bit of the story of Carson Tinker, an Alabama football player at the time, and his girlfriend, Ashley Harrison. I’ve heard a lot of their story, and all of it is involved in a book he wrote (which I haven’t gotten hold of yet), but when I was finished with Kim’s book, I went to look up the memorial scholarship set up in Ashley’s name. That, and my experiences thereafter, comprise the other three parts to this series. The next three parts of this blog WILL contain spoilers to the book, which started the whole thing, so keep that in mind!

As for What Stands in a Storm, check out Kim’s website, where you’ll find more information and a behind-the-scenes about her book. Also, I’ve included here the Weatherbrains episode that she was on as well. Her segment is toward the beginning of the show (after all the intros…which takes a while on that show sometimes!).

Click here for Part Two!