April 27, 2011 forever changed how our family prepared for severe weather. The first round hit early that morning, and I pulled Shannon from her bed and held my half-asleep 3-year-old and her Mr. Bear while the wind shook our house. Ryan was at work, and my only thought was, “oh my god, this is it.”
Later that day, we watched the SkyCam live footage of a massive tornado as it tore through Tuscaloosa — where my two brothers were in school, along with other friends. Later that evening we again took cover, this time in my grandmother’s basement with my sister & her baby. We lost power, and sat huddled while the local radio DJ told us the storm was passing directly above. For the second time I thought, “This is it.”
Over the next days I witnessed people driving from other counties to wait in line for gas. All of TVA’s north Alabama customers were without power for four days or more. People were scrambling to get prescriptions replaced because their homes had been destroyed. They’d lost everything, including irreplaceable keepsakes.
After that, our severe weather plan included rounding up medications, contacts & glasses, baby blankets & bears, and our ‘important documents’ folder. We filled up the gas tank, made sure we had some cash on hand, and charged all devices, including the portable batteries. If the weather was overnight, we had socks and sneakers and bras and pants laid out along with our helmets.
It sounds like overkill, but it got to be a ritual … and I told myself, “If we’re prepared, it won’t happen.” A superstition’s only crazy if it doesn’t work, right? And it worked, again and again, through the dozens of polygons we respected over the past 10 years and all the other times “this is it” crossed my mind.
I wrote a column not long ago about how Monroe rarely sees tornado warnings, and it’s a bit ironic because for the first time we have a basement. We still have the helmets accessible, and we know our safest place down there … because old habits die hard, as do memories.
There were 316 lives lost on April 27, 2011 — 238 of them in Alabama alone — and I’m forever grateful that everyone I love came out unscathed. At least physically. Because as my publisher David Clemons asked on Facebook, “If you don’t have tornado-induced trauma, are you even Alabama?”
Ain’t that the truth? I don’t know if the fear of “this is it” will ever go away, and if you read this and think, “That’s a little crazy,” then I’d bet money you didn’t live through that day.