Tornadoes batter Alabama and the South as death toll continues to rise

TULSA - Historic long track violent tornadoes tore through Alabama and Georgia on Wednesday evening.  

As I write this blog there are 130 tornado reports and over 400,000 power outages in Alabama.

We've posted lots of video clips of the tornadoes in Alabama on our Tornado Alley Live page on KJRH.com. 

The death toll continues to rise and the full extent of the carnage will not be known until morning light.   

Andy Wallace and I should have been working on our 5 p.m. weathercast, instead we sat in our weather center glued to the Internet feed of station ABC 33/40 in Birmingham, Alabama. 

Chief meteorologist James Spann was on the air and tower cams were showing a monster wedge tearing through the city of Tuscaloosa. 

James is everything a good meteorologist should be. He was knowledgeable, credible, calm, clear, informative, and gave valuable information to his viewers. It was hard to not watch this unfold and I felt for him.

You could hear compassion in his voice knowing he had viewers in harm's way and that likely some would perish. The massive black mile-wide tornado was nearing the University of Alabama. The horrific images reminded me of May 3, 1999's outbreak in Oklahoma.

That day I was in the KFOR weather center tag-teaming with the chief meteorologist. The closer the tornado came towards Moore the larger and more violent it grew. In the end, it became the tornado all others were compared to. Highest winds ever recorded in a tornado and destruction like I have never experienced in my 31-year career. That storm took many lives and changed lives forever. Wednesday night's storm will do the same for those in Alabama.

There is a bit of helplessness you feel when you are watching a helicopter shot or remote camera of a large tornado ripping through your area. You are on the air, giving the warnings, the location, the latest information, but in the pit of your stomach you know people are going to die. It's a sick feeling. You second-guess yourself for a long time after that, and it is always in the back of your mind for the next outbreak. 

Before I worked in Oklahoma City, I briefly worked at WBRC, in Birmingham. It was about 26 years ago, and they hired a pimply faced kid to pull weekends there. James Spann was our competition at WVTM as I recall and was very good then. I didn't work there long, but learned a lot from watching him, and he has only gotten better and his coverage tonight was excellent. 
   
I just heard someone on The Weather Channel describe this as "possibly worse" than the outbreak in 1999 or even the historic Tri-State Tornado outbreak. That was a huge outbreak in 1925 that killed nearly 700 people in Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. Mother Nature's beat-down continued well into the morning hours.

2 Works for You meteorologist Andy Wallace looks into why this storm was so deadly on KJRH.com.

Before I go to bed I plan to say a prayer for the people in Alabama and Georgia, hope you will do the same.

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