Date:         Tue, 19 Dec 2000 21:26:53 -0500
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Comments:     Originally-From: Patrick Douglas Crispen

From:         Patrick Douglas Crispen 
Subject:      TOURBUS -- 19 DEC 00 -- TUSCALOOSA TORNADO
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             TOURBUS Volume 6, Number 44 -- 19 Dec 2000
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    Tuscaloosa Tornado
Howdy, y'all.  Bob and I switched days so that I could tell you a
little more about the tornado that hit Tuscaloosa a few days ago.
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On with the show ...
Tuscaloosa Tornado
Early Saturday afternoon, a massive tornado struck my hometown of
Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  I'm okay, as are my friends and family.  The
tornado missed my home by about half a mile.
The tornado, which was a little less than half a mile wide at times (I
think the exact measurement was 750 yards or 686 meters), cut an 18
mile (29 kilometer) path through the city, killing 11 and destroying
hundreds of homes and businesses.  Despite a 15 minute advance warning
from the National Weather Service, Saturday's tornado was the
deadliest in the nation this year.
The 200 mile-per-hour plus storm was rated an F4 on the Fujita scale.
The Fujita Scale
Tornadoes are measured using a scale that measures the amount of
damage the tornado causes.  The scale is known as the "Fujita Tornado
Intensity Scale":
      F0 (Gale tornado)            40-72 mph
      Some damage to chimneys; breaks branches off trees; pushes over
      shallow-rooted trees; damages sign boards.
      F1 (Moderate tornado)        73-112 mph
      The lower limit is the beginning of hurricane wind speed; peels
      surface off roofs; mobile homes pushed off foundations or
      overturned; moving autos pushed off the roads; attached garages
      may be destroyed.
      F2 (Significant tornado)     113-157 mph
      Considerable damage. Roofs torn off frame houses; mobile homes
      demolished; boxcars pushed over; large trees snapped or uprooted;
      light object missiles generated.
      F3 (Severe tornado)          158-206 mph
      Roof and some walls torn off well constructed houses; trains
      overturned; most trees in forest uprooted
      F4 (Devastating tornado)     207-260 mph
      Well-constructed houses leveled; structures with weak foundations
      blown off some distance; cars thrown and large missiles
      F5 (Incredible tornado)      261-318 mph
      Strong frame houses lifted off foundations and carried
      considerable distances to disintegrate; automobile sized missiles
      fly through the air in excess of 100 meters; trees debarked;
      steel reinforced concrete structures badly damaged.
      F6 (Inconceivable tornado)   319-379 mph
      These winds are very unlikely. The small area of damage they
      might produce would probably not be recognizable along with the
      mess produced by F4 and F5 wind that would surround the F6 winds.
      Missiles, such as cars and refrigerators would do serious
      secondary damage that could not be directly identified as F6
      damage. If this level is ever achieved, evidence for it might
      only be found in some manner of ground swirl pattern, for it may
      never be identifiable through engineering studies
      [quoted from
Between 1950 and 1994, 74% of all of the tornadoes that touched down
in the United States were "weak" (F0 or F1), 25% were "strong" (F2 or
F3), and only 1% were "violent" (F4 or F5).
Tuscaloosa Tornado Video
While the death toll in Tuscaloosa was extraordinarily high, two
things prevented it from being even higher:
      1. The National Weather Service sounded the tornado sirens at
         least 15 minutes before the tornado struck; and
      2. The weather team at ABC 33/40 TV in Birmingham tracked the
         tornado's path using a camera mounted on the station's tower
         in Tuscaloosa.
ABC 33/40's coverage of the tornado was astonishing, and it saved
countless lives.  An excerpt of their broadcast is now available on
the Internet.  If you have Real Player installed on your computer and
would like to see ABC 33/40's broadcast as it happened, point your Web
browser to 
and then click on the "our live coverage ..." link.  It will take a
few seconds for the video to start, but eventually you'll see James
Spann standing in front of a Tuscaloosa radar map.  After a couple of
minutes, Spann will cut to Mark Prater in the ABC 33/40 weather
office.  Mark will then cut to the "Towerlink" camera.  The camera
will pan to the right and then back to the left.  The tornado will be
on the left hand side of your screen.  In fact, the Towerlink logo
points right at the tornado.  If you can't see it, just wait ... the
tornado will become obvious in a moment.
After the tower camera operator fixes the zoom and tilt, you'll see a
white water tower to the left of the tornado.  Remember this, because
that water tower appears in some of the damage pictures we'll be
talking about in a minute.
By the way, when James Spann talks about McFarland Mall and the Wal-
Mart Supercenter, that's where I live.  In other words, I LIVE BETWEEN
THE CAMERA AND THE TORNADO!  (And believe me, folks, that's a sentence
I thought I'd NEVER use.)
Tornado Damage Pictures
Now that we've seen the tornado on the ground, let's take a look at
what happened during the storm.  WJRD-TV in Tuscaloosa has two pages
of images from both during and after the tornado: 
and .
Click on any of the pictures to get a closer look.  You'll see that
white water tower on the second page of pictures.
There are some even more haunting pictures at .
In fact, I need to warn you that the first picture, which appeared on
the front page of many newspapers around the world, is particularly
disturbing, especially to those of us here in Tuscaloosa.  Why?  Well,
you need to know the story behind the picture: .
How You Can Protect Yourself
Unfortunately, stories like this are not unique to Tuscaloosa.
Hundreds of countries around the world experience tornadoes every
year.  How can you protect yourself?  Well, if you are at home when a
tornado is sighted:
      * Go at once to the basement, storm cellar, or the lowest level
        of the building.
      * If there is no basement, go to an inner hallway or a smaller
        inner room without windows, such as a bathroom or closet.  Get
        away from the windows.  [When I was a kid in Oklahoma, we were
        taught to open all windows to "equalize the pressure."  It
        turns out that the only thing that this does is get your carpet
        wet.  In other words, KEEP YOUR WINDOWS CLOSED ... and STAY
        AWAY FROM THEM!]
      * Go to the center of the room. Stay away from corners because
        they tend to attract debris.
      * Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a workbench or
        heavy table or desk and hold on to it.
      * Use arms to protect head and neck.  [Remember all those movies
        where the airplane is about to crash and everyone is told to
        "assume crash positions?"  That's what you need to do.]
      * If in a mobile home, get out and find shelter elsewhere.  [It
        sounds silly, but you'll be a heck of a lot safer lying outside
        in a soggy ditch.]
All of these tips come from the United States Federal Emergency
Management Agency's Tornado fact sheet at
READ THIS WEB PAGE!  PRINT IT OUT!  This page tells you what to do
before, during, and after a tornado, as well as what you should do if
you are caught in a tornado at work or school, outdoors, or in a car.
We don't pull our little bus of Internet happiness into too many Web
sites that can save your life.  This one can.  Read it.
How You Can Help the Victims of the Tuscaloosa Tornado
If you would like to make a donation to aid the victims of the
Tuscaloosa tornado, you can contribute to the American Red Cross
Relief Fund either by calling 1-800-HELPNOW or by sending snail mail
      American Red Cross of West Alabama
      1100 15th St. E.
      Tuscaloosa, AL 35404
Make sure to note that you want your donation to go to the Tuscaloosa
tornado victims.
The Governor of the state of Alabama has also set up a disaster relief
      Governor's Tornado Relief Fund
      Neighbor Helping Neighbor Inc.
      The Tuscaloosa News
      P.O. Box 20187
      Tuscaloosa, Ala., 35402-0187
The taxpayer identification number for the Governor's Tornado Relief
Fund is 06-1525140.
A Final Thought
A recent comment in a Tuscaloosa chat room best sums up my thoughts
and feelings about this tragedy:
      This past weekend's tornado gave me reason to pause and take
      notice ... As a former resident of Tuscaloosa, a wonderful place
      I called home for the first 30 years of my life, the news of the
      tragedy struck me extremely hard.  My family still lives there
      and so do the majority of the folks I still call friends.  After
      I received the call from my mother ... about the tornado and the
      fact that she and my family members were fine, I scorched the
      buttons on my TV remote searching for details about the damage
      and the possible victims.  One thing struck me about the
      developing reports on the various news sources.  There is a
      stereotype in the world of news reporting about the "typical"
      tornado victims in the south.  The typical tornado victim is seen
      as a trailer dweller with a limited vocabulary and even more
      limited "available teeth".  People like to laugh at things like
      that.  Maybe it's a way of coping with tragedy or the
      uncontrollable destiny of Nature's wrath.  I don't know.  The
      thing that struck me about the destruction that befell my
      hometown was this particular "Finger of God" didn't discriminate
      between the poor or the wealthy, the literate or the illiterate,
      or even the dentally challenged [or] those with good dental
      hygiene.  This storm treated everyone as equals.
Amen, brother.
That's it for today.  Have a safe and happy week, and I hope that you
will keep the victims of this weekend's disaster in your thoughts and
    Tuscaloosa Tornado
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