Saturday, February 28, 2009

Missed all the tornadoes

Huge water droplets crashed into my windshield last night as I drove up Highway 231 to Gadsden. The wipers flashed furiously from side to side in the vain attempt to give me a glance through the waves of water.

Hwy 231 is a little two-lane slab of road that cuts through tiny little towns buried in the Talledega Forest. Rebel flags, old trucks, huge plots of land littered with cows...that sort of thing. And I had seen the weather map before I left. Long stretches of red streaked across the map from Mississippi to Georgia and the bulk of them along the I-20 corridor from Tuscaloosa. But I had to get from Montgomery to Fort Payne by 8 pm.

Around noon, we started getting the weather notices across our computers at work. Severe thunderstorm warnings, tornado warnings, flash floods all that screeched in the blue boxes that crept on the screen and wouldn't leave until I hit the annoying "acknowledge and close" button. The plan was to leave around 5 to make it in time. So I watched the local NBC weather guy point at maps and calmly tell people to get to the lowest point in their homes because the storms capable of producing tornadoes would be in their town in 3 minutes. But what was interesting to me was how slow the storms were and how most of them were sitting in Tuscaloosa. So if I took 231 instead of the interstate, where Prattville was getting hammered, I could stay in front of the storms. There would be a break for about 20 minutes that if I timed right, I could drive right in between the two storms that would smack Wetumpka.

So I grabbed Caiden from school, threw her in the car and broke speed records to get north of Wetumpka. The radio squawked all the tornado warnings and watches in all the counties south and west and north of me. I flew toward Coosa county as hail rained down on it. I left Shelby County behind me as I tore from it's severe, flood-inducing thunderstorms. The radio told folks in Talladega Forest that a tornado had already hit the ground...I was 30 minutes from there. Lightening crashed off to the west where Chilton County was bombarded with hail and damaging winds. Water attacked both sides of my car. At some points in bad construction, I didn't even know if I was driving between the white lines of the lane.

But I made it! Then I had to repeat the entire process to get back to Montgomery. I knew the storms were supposed to keep shwacking the middle Alabama area but were slower and the lull would be in Birmingham. So the car turned into a boat and we cruised down the interstate right toward Mountain Brook. Flashes of lightening creased across the sky and at one point a sharp javelin of light cracked to the northwest that looked like the 4th of July. To the southeast, the thunder was breaking windows.

I figured no cop would get out of his car in this weather so I floored it and made it home right as the county EMS sirens were shouting their ominous warning!

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