Recently, I flew into Birmingham, Alabama to photograph Clay and Meghan’s wedding. Clay is my step brother, Tom’s son. When we left Denver, the pilot said that our flight path would go around a large storm and we would land ahead of it. About a half hour before landing I looked out the window and saw a huge thunderhead that was higher than we were flying at 35,000 feet. We were heading straight into it as the plane turned a little south to avoid it and we had a perfect landing.
A couple of hours later at Tom’s home the local news station was going crazy broadcasting tornado warnings for Tuscaloosa and most of northern Alabama. The biggest tornado more than a mile wide ripped through Tuscaloosa about 55 miles southwest of Birmingham and was heading toward us! It ended up being the worst storm in the state’s history killing more than 300 people and knocking out power to about a 1/4 of the state.
Somehow, the wedding was able to continue as planned a couple of days later. Tom and his other son Tyler and I drove down to Tuscaloosa where Tyler went to college at the University of Alabama. In fact, he was there the morning of the storm. His mother Krista called him and asked him to come home because of the weather reports predicting a strong possibility of tornadoes in that area. Good call Krista. Several of Tyler’s friends ended up riding out the storm in an inside closet of an apartment with 7 people, 6 dogs and a cat!
I’ve been in and seen lots of tornadoes in my lifetime but the damage from this one was by far the worst I’ve ever seen. It’s amazing that there wasn’t a much higher loss of life. The fact that it happen in late afternoon rather than in the middle of the night plus the weather report predictions had to have helped.
For those of you who may not know, I was a newspaper photojournalist for more than 20 years documenting disasters such as this. It was good to know that I still have the personality to go up to people going through the rubble of what was once there house and talk with them, photograph them and exchange email addresses so I could send them pictures.
Good luck and Godspeed to the folks in Alabama recovering from these tornadoes.