Saturday, February 9, 2008

The New Tornado Alley

When most of us think about "Tornado Alley," we think of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, but when it comes to the more powerful, killer tornadoes, "Tornado Alley" is the Mid South. Over the last 10-15 years, there have been more F-2 and higher tornadoes in the Memphis radar region than any other, with Paducah coming in second. Of course, the people of Jackson, TN don't need to be reminded. Tuesday's devastating tornado was just the latest round of powerful tornadoes to rip through the city, and/or the surrounding area during the last several years. Jackson has taken direct hits 3 times since 1999.

This is especially heartbreaking to me, as I'm a native West Tennessean and worked in Jackson for 6 years in the 80's. Over the last 10 years, dozens have lost their lives in Jackson and rural West Tennessee. On Tuesday, the death toll wasn't bad considering the nature of the powerful, long-track tornadoes. It's a tribute to more people taking storm warnings seriously and being more prepared.

Tuesday night, I was actually playing at the Lourdes Foundation Mardi Gras Celebration in Metropolis, Illinois, but my thoughts were further south, with my family and friends in the Ken-Tenn and West Tennessee. Beginning in early afternoon, I was tracking a troubling storm in Northeast Louisiana, which was moving northeast. I had a feeling it was headed our way, even then. These are the times I miss working as a meteorologist, because these are the times I felt like my 25 years of experience in the area, really made a difference. I feel protective of my lifelong friends and neighbors in the area. Needless to say, it's a short list of meteorologists who I trust to deliver severe storm and tornado warnings.

Sure enough, I watched as a few hours later, it turned into another tornado outbreak in West Tennessee.

Here we go again. The tornadoes moved through the Memphis area, to Jackson and then on through Puryear. A few tornadoes and funnel clouds made it into Southeast Missouri and into Christian County in Western Kentucky. At least 2 television stations in Memphis, and WBBJ-TV in Jackson, TN stayed on the entire time, from mid-afternoon on, to warn viewers about the tornado tracks. They are to be commended. No doubt they saved lives. Even though at times WBBJ had only a partial signal, they kept doing what they could to warn viewers in West and Northwest Tennessee. Of course, sadly, they've been through the drill before.

They also stayed on to warn viewers throughout the tornado outbreak in 2006, in which tornadoes moved through Caruthersville, MO, across the Mississippi and into Dyer and Gibson Counties in Northwest Tennessee.

In 2006, just as the tornadoes were ripping into Dyer County, WBBJ continued with live coverage and provided warnings and live tracking all the way through the event. They don't have the bells of whistles of other stations, but they do have genuine dedication to the area. Of course, I've known their Chief Met, Gary Pickens for more than 25 years, so I'm not surprised at all. For all he's done the past several years in West Tennessee, he deserves a crate full of Emmies. By staying on continuously, these stations lose a lot of advertising money, but if they hadn't, we could have lost a lot more lives.

For all the times we gripe about local TV news & weather, there still are some dedicated people who, like me, truly do care more about saving lives than anything else. My hats off to them!

1 comment:

Sharon said...

I Miss you doing the weather Lew. The new Guy's at T.V. 6 can't hold a candle to you. No offense to them, it's just unfortunate that they are still new at this (or it seems that they are), and they will never be better to look at :). All kidding aside....You were and always will be a Great Meteorologist because you care about people. That's what I Like about you.
I hope you and Brid