April 27, 2011, is a day many people in the state of Alabama will never forget. On this day, 238 lives were lost after numerous long-lived, long-track, deadly tornadoes tore through parts of the Southeast, with Alabama being hit the hardest. Around one percent of the land that makes up Alabama was affected by the deadly tornadoes that day. Nearly $1.1 billion in damages occurred, with more than 200,000 homes and businesses destroyed. It has been exactly six months as of today since those tornadoes swept through Alabama. The rebuilding effort has come a long way since April 27, but there is still a lot of work to do before things can become normal again across Alabama.
According to FEMA, the recovery is far from over, but large strides have been made to help out those who need assistance. Families who lost their homes have been provided temporary housing units. FEMA has been able to provide rental systems and fund grants to help survivors move on. FEMA was able to process over 100 million dollars in Small Business Administration loans. The Army Corps of Engineers helped remove over 50 percent of the debris, which covered 9.6 million cubic yards throughout the state of Alabama.
Below is an image of Pleasant Grove, Alabama (west of Birmingham), six months later. Special thanks to Brad Panovich, chief meteorologist at WCNC-NBC TV from Charlotte, North Carolina, for providing these images and interactive panoramic view:
Weather and tornado awareness have increased greatly as well. From October 15-20, 2011, the National Weather Association (NWA) held its annual meeting in Birmingham, Alabama. On October 18, NWA held a town hall meeting which gathered a cross-section of people who were in the path of the Tuscaloosa/Birmingham tornado to answer questions regarding their knowledge on severe weather and personal insight as the event occurred on that day. During this meeting, members in the crowd were asked a series of questions which they responded by answering multiple choice questions through an electronic clicker.
During the poll, it became clear that the NOAA weather radio and television meteorologists were their number one source for weather information during times of severe weather. Many of them tune in and trust their favorite television meteorologist, and mentioned that their sense of urgency on air helped them understand the severity of the event. When the National Weather Service mentioned the seriousness in their weather discussions and used strong wording such as “historic” or even words such as “never-before-seen,” people felt more inclined to take more precautions. Twenty-one percent felt as if a tornado would not hit them when a tornado warning was issued for their area.
The NWA provided meteorologists valuable information about how to deliver information on severe storms to a general audience. Social media has come a long way, too – including Twitter, Facebook and Ustream – and social media is a source meteorologists should use to help spread the word about severe weather when it strikes. If anything, this event has brought more self-awareness to the public across the state of Alabama.
When the next severe weather event moves in, I strongly believe this state will be better prepared.
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Bottom line: There has been a lot of improvement across the state of Alabama after the deadly tornadoes struck major cities exactly six months ago today – on April 27, 2011. The clean-up effort has come a long way, but the efforts to bring life back to normal still have a long way to go. A lot of areas devastated by the tornadoes are still bare, where trees were uprooted and thrown like toothpicks. Stronger houses are being built to withstand severe winds. The general awareness of the weather is stronger across the area. Social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook, and Ustream are great outlets that people can use when severe weather is moving into their area. Despite all of these issues, one thing is sure: Alabama is strong, and they will recover from this. All of our prayers go out to all of the victims and families of this tragic day.
Matt Daniel is Meteorologist for WBRC in Birmingham, Alabama. A self-described "big weather and music geek," Matt has a passion for helping to keep people safe when severe weather strikes and says if you don't have a NOAA Weather Radio ... you should get one.