Weatherman James Spann Remembers April 27

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Weatherman James Spann remembers April 27 at Tuscaloosa Rotary“I am a child of the seventies,” admits legendary Alabama weatherman James Spann, who spoke to the Rotary Club of Tuscaloosa at its October 4 meeting last week. But the acknowledgment was about more than his love of radio, rock-n-roll and other products of that era.

Spann, who came to Tuscaloosa at age twelve in 1968, soon endured the events that would shape his life and career: The May 27, 1973 tornado that destroyed Brent, Alabama, where he experienced the death and destruction first hand; the April 4, 1974 “superoutbreak” of over 150 tornadoes that killed 350 and found the young Spann in the ER of Jasper, where he witnessed things he has still never shared; and the tornadoes of 1975 and 1977 that struck Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. These early encounters with nature’s violent power inspired Spann to pursue a career in meterology, and he has done so with a passion. “God will use your experiences to mold you,” he said, “ to do what you are called to do.”

So it is no surprise that the events of April 27 have touched him deeply, and that he is only just now able to talk about it all in public. “We knew in advance it was going to be a bad day,” Spann said, and they did everything they could to warn as many as they could. But so many storms came so quickly—like “bullets from Hell” as he described it—that there was little time to respond: Hackleberg and Phil Campbell, Sipsey, and then the long-track tonrado that struck Tuscaloosa at 5:15. Fifty three deaths have been attributed to the storms, and Spann has taken it very personally. “It happened on my watch,” he said, and he remains committeed to doing everything he can to make sure Alabamians are properly warned and prepared for the next outbreaks.

Ironically, part of that preparation may be working on reducing the frequency of tornado warnings, the vast majority of which (over 80%) are either false alarms or signals of weak storms that pose no substantial threat. Technologies like GPS-activated smart phones with weather apps are also the way of the future, since they can offer much more timely and targeted warnings.

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