As this is written on April 25, 2015, we are two days away from the 4th anniversary of that Super Outbreak of tornadoes in 2011. This whole four-part series is intended as a look back on those events, and the good things that came out of them. That said, during the course of the first three blogs, I either forgot or completely omitted some things that need to be included, so that assortment of stuff starts here.
During the What Stands in a Storm book report in blog one, I noted briefly that it was interesting reading the stories of everyone in the book about how they reacted to the impending storms. There are many ongoing studies from a social sciences standpoint on that very thing. Where do people go? What do they do or bring with them? How will they know if they’re safe from the storms and get the all-clear? Shortly after my return from Alabama in 2011, someone where I work confirmed what I’d heard at the NWA meeting. Some of the Spanish-speaking people that are in our country didn’t know what to do! Many of them did the only thing they could think of, and they stood in their doorways. That’s a good thing to do in an earthquake, which they’re probably more used to, but an awful idea if tornadoes are possible! So with just that one story, we know we need to have a way to better communicate with people who don’t speak English well, and to let them know where to be when storms hit…so they’ll know before that happens. Just that one story created at least two things we need to work on! There were so many other thing just like that we learned, and it’s all fascinating to me, even when people do what they’re supposed to do!
Later on, I talked about the impact the storms had on my friend James Spann, and I didn’t mention that I was the same way. I’m sure his feelings were way more intense than mine, but still, losing 14 people to tornadoes on my watch was terrible for me, and I felt terrible about it. So I know to an extent how he felt. Eventually I learned that there is just so much you can do about stuff like that. In the aftermath, one thing to do is simply to correct things. Just how Spann’s data provider fixed their problems, I fixed a lot of mine. I have a laptop with radar on it that I can carry around to different studios, a lot of the station’s power issues are not issues now, and I’ve changed the data provider I use for radar information. That was vital for me in the early months after the storms to make my coverage better, and that’s something I learned from none other than James Spann himself. So while neither of us will ever forget that day, and the loss of life will always hurt, things are better for future coverage both here and in Alabama as well.
I have to bring up one thing I mentioned, that Ashley Brand isn’t at Spann’s station anymore. I have no idea whose fault that is, but if someone decided she wasn’t good enough to be on television anymore, that’s flat wrong, and a crying shame. I’ll never forget Ashley sitting in a Dollar General store parking lot early in 2011. She was watching a storm that was clearly rotating, talking on the air to James Spann and Jason Simpson, and telling people she saw in the parking lot to get indoors to safety. That was world class by her. From all I saw of her on television, she was a fantastic member of that team, and should’ve never left! She’s doing well now, and is still covering weather, which is a good thing!
Lastly, that phrase Ashley Harrison used to write on Christmas cards…”I love you as big as the sky!” The second time I read about that in the book, it occurred to me the horrible irony (if that’s the right word) of that. Her favorite phrase to write on cards to family was about the sky…and it was something from said sky that plucked her from her boyfriend’s arms and cut her life short. Every time I think of that, it’s quite stunning for me. Whenever I think about it, I’ll gaze randomly into the distance and play with the wristband on my left arm. Even though that thought has occurred to me many times since I read the book, it still renders me speechless. Even now, I just stopped for a full minute or more, with my arms folded up just thinking about that, just another one of the hundreds of deep thoughts that come from that whole event that cannot be explained correctly with words…or at least with the word set I have in my mind. I can’t imagine how her parents processed that, if they ever have, for that matter. I can only imagine how the hundreds of relatives of those lost have similar things of their loved ones to remember that could be incredibly painful. That’s why it’s always important to pray for survivors of things like that.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series. The whole thing has helped me to process my reactions to the storms, the loss of life here, those who have helped me through that process, and it’s helped me to move on. Closure is an amazing thing, even when it takes four years to get there!