One thing I learned quickly once we'd settled here is that weather is a major part of your life when you live in Alabama. Major thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail, hurricanes, even snow storms, halt life as you know it and turn all the TV stations to 24 hour weather reporting centers. The entire city will shut down; schools let out early, start late, or don't open at all that day, offices close on the threat of "inclement" weather, the grocery stores are overrun with people buying milk and bread (for bread sandwiches I guess); honestly we've witnessed it, and it's quite unbelievable.
Now, I shouldn't make too much fun, because in the 10+ years we have lived here, there have been legitimate major storms. I remember several years ago during one spring, we had two tornadoes in the span of four weeks that hit less than 5 miles east and west of our office. And of course, if we do have any snow, it's usually following a period of rain, that quickly turns to ice with snow on top of it. And with 80% of the population of this state pining to be a NASCAR driver taking turn 4 at Talladega Super Speedway, trust me, you don't want to be on the roads. We also had our share of hurricanes in 2004-05; between Ivan, Dennis and Katrina we got plenty of wind and rain (and in turn spent plenty on a generator for hurricanes to come). The strange thing about hurricanes though, it's a sit and wait situation. You hear about it for days before it approaches and then just sit around, waiting to see what happens, just bizarre! But the rain, the rain, it's the most amazing thing. I had never witnessed storms that produced so much hard rain as the typical spring thunderstorm in Alabama. All day rain is not that common here, but the 30 minute downpour that produces 1" or more of rain is almost a weekly occurance as spring turns to summer and the afternoon heat balloons to 90+ degrees.
This past Friday was one of the first storm days of our season. We had heard it could get nasty in the afternoon, so around 12:30pm, it was announced the Jefferson and Shelby County Schools would all be closing early at 1:30. This meant most daycares would also close, and although mine usually stays open as the director feels it is their duty to be open as much as possible for the working parents, much of the staff has kids in school, so if we decide to close early at work, I always head on over to pick up the kids, as I did on Friday at about 1:45. But as can happen, the storms gathered earlier and stronger than anticipated, and while I was on my way, the tornado sirens began shrilling. I made it to Odyssey only to find all the staff and kids hunkered down in the center hallways and the admin staff frantically trying to reach all the parents to let them know they would in fact close as soon as the parents could safely retrieve their children.
I wasn't particularly panicked, the sirens were for Jefferson County and the warning could be for any part of the county, however as more parents arrived they reported we were in fact near the area that the storms were cited for producing funnel clouds, right on the edge of Jefferson and Shelby County's (we live in Shelby). Again, I remained calm, I was in a safe place and with my kids, so if anything happened, at least I had them with me. One small problem, I had been trying to reach Cory since about 12:30 to no avail, not on his cell, not at home and as time passed the more often I had visions of him oblivious to the weather warnings working outside or in the garage when suddenly a funnel cloud descends upon our property and turns his tractor or 4 Wheeler on top of him. I even hear from Dad, all the way in WI, who was checking out the weather online and saw our storm forecast. I ask him to try Cory's cell thinking maybe it's a problem with local towers communicating, but no luck, he can't reach him either.
Finally, the weather lets up for a bit, another big band is headed our way, but enough time for me to get both kids in the car and down the road to get home to see if we still had a Daddy to take care of us. By now it's 3:15 and still, no call back, just voice mail. I call the neighbor at work to see if he's talked with Cory, I call one of the guys at the office to see if he's heard anything...not a peep. On my way, about 2 miles from the house, I pass two sherrif vehicles on the road, with a tow truck pulling a pickup out of a pine tree, obviously a casualty of a nasty band of weather that hit at some point early that afternoon. My visions become more of a reality, and I start to consider what to do if I find him pinned under the Massey Ferguson, unconsious. I mean, the entire city has been crazy since noon when the schools announced it would be bad enough they would close, and even Odyssey, which never closes, was calling parents to get their kids!
As we pull onto the gravel drive leading to the house, I hold my breath and scan the hillside for a glimpse of the red and black of the tractor, upended, nothing...until we get to the edge of the paved drive, and there at the corner of the house, sits the tractor - upright. As we pull into the garage, Cory calmly walks up to us, wondering how he miscalculated the time - thinking we were home at our usual 5:45 (it was 3:30), not quite ready to help gather the kids and get in the house to help with dinner/bath/bed. As much as I wanted to smack him upside the head, I couldn't blame him. It was strangely calm outside, it didn't even look like it was storming anywhere near our place. Of course, I still managed to get a few words in about his not having a phone nearby while he was doing whatever he was doing that afternoon - telling him about all the craziness at the daycare, the sirens, all the stories I'd heard from all the parents coming into the daycare which he responded with a shrug and look as if it was all a bunch of worry for nothing. I teetered between angry and grateful as I got Jack settled in with his crayons and started feeding Duke while Daddy finished up whatever he was working on in the office figuring that was the end of our crazy day.
And I was almost right, until 20 minutes later when James Spann (Birmingham's most famous weatherman) announced the sighting of a "hook echo" moving east from Calera/Alabaster along the north edge of Columbiana toward Westover, or in our world - right toward our house! For those of you not familiar with James Spann's "hook echo" let's just say, time for the tornado shelter. And just as I'm running to the garage to yell for Cory, he's running in the house looking for flashlights and water. We gather up the kids, the dogs, water, flashlights and a box of goldfish crackers (it's also snack time) and spend the next 20 minutes sitting in the 8x8 room that is our safe place listening to the weather radio and wondering if we will be Dorothy and Toto anytime soon.
But, as you are reading this post, you know that we survived, the "hook echo" did not produce an actual tornado and after about 20 minutes we went back into the house and started dinner/bath/bed just like any normal Friday night. That is, any normal Friday night that might be in Alabama!