This is a snapshot of him,on the air, with live video of the Tuscaloosa, Alabama tornado as it was destroying homes and buildings and killing people in its path.
And while I was putting together our northwest forecast on Wednesday–worried about getting the numbers right–I suddenly felt it was all so trivial here. You know, how we whine about the endless rain?
That’s because I was watching a live feed of Mark on his station, as he explained to his viewers he’d never seen anything like this in his career–and telling people to take the tornado warnings as seriously as ‘you ever have in your life’ and to p-l-e-a-s-e take cover. I have no doubt his calm but frequent requests to do so saved lives on an Alabama afternoon that may have been unlike any other.
I found this on the station site – where Mark has my job – at WIAT CBS-42:
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – As Chief Meteorologist Mark Prater explained it all day, the storms that pounded Alabama were unprecedented.
The things we’ve witnessed, the horrors, the complete annihilation of communities and the tragic deaths will haunt us all for a very long time.
When those words were written, Alabama’s death toll was at 52. As of this update (Friday, April 29, 2011) the number is at 210. With a seven state death toll at 312. This makes this outbreak the second deadliest in U.S. History — but not by much — the April 1974 outbreak killed 330 people.
Strange Things Happened Ahead of Tornado Hitting Birmingham, Alabama
It was probably an indication of how powerful and deadly the storm was. After the tornado tore through Tuscaloosa, Alabama–pieces of roofing and insulation from homes destroyed there–began dropping from the sky in Birmingham, Alabama–which is about 17 miles away. In simple terms, it’s like the tornado was a vacuum cleaner that sucked up everything in its path and lifted that thousands of feet into the air. Up high, that debris was then caught in strong winds that carried the debris for miles, dropping it bit by bit across the state. That’s happened before–but I’ve never seen this–where it was almost constantly raining debris from the sky. Ahead of the tornado.
Tornado Outbreak Estimates
- Almost 1 million people were left without power in seven states – and it will be at least a week before it can be totally restored
- The largest tornadoes were estimated at one mile wide–or possibly a little more. That’s the distance from the Hawthorne Bridge to the Steel Bridge in Portland
- It’s estimated some of the tornadoes reached EF4 status (winds up to 199mph) or EF5 status (winds 200mph+)
- For reference: Oregon’s Aumsville tornado in 2010 was an EF2, with winds up to 120mph