FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Even though they didn’t come as a surprise, local weather experts said the storms Fort Rucker experienced April 24 were quite extraordinary.
Spread over 16 hours, the weather events featured two moderate thunderstorm warnings, one severe thunderstorm warning and a tornado warning, according to Cindy Howell, supervisory meteorological technician with the Air Force’s Operating Location-C, 18th Combat Weather Squadron, also commonly known as Fort Rucker Weather Operations.
“It was unique in that it was such a long-duration weather event,” Howell said, adding that the weather team had been keeping an eye on the front for almost an entire week before it hit. “A lot of times, we’ll see weather move through, but this was three waves– we were here from 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. It was wave after wave after wave. It was certainly exciting.”
Even the afternoon tornado warning was unique, according to Amanda Dixon, lead meteorological technician who was in the office at the time. The warning was given 19 minutes in advance, as opposed to the norm, which is around five minutes.
“It formed almost 30 miles to our west-southwest and was kind of holding together,” she said. “We were thinking about issuing the warning, and then it looked like it was weakening for one scan on the radar and then it was back again, so we said, ‘No, it’s holding and it’s going to be within 15 miles,’ and we issued the warning.”
Another thing that made the day unusual was hail on post, Howell said.
“We don’t often see hail, especially large hail, in this area,” she said. “I had half-inch hail at my house in Enterprise, but there were reports of 1-inch hail in Daleville and Enterprise – and it was very widespread with numerous reports of at least pea-size hail.”
While the all-day weather event was certainly out of the ordinary, it did next to no damage on post, according to Col. Whitney B. Gardner, Fort Rucker garrison commander.
“We only had one house that sustained minor damage from a tree limb that fell on it,” he said, adding that the work done by Corvias and the Directorate of Public Works in the housing areas and throughout the post to remove trees that could cause problems if they fell helped to keep the damage to a minimum.
“Before, with storms like we saw April 24, we probably would’ve had major issues in the housing areas,” Gardner said. “All the work Corvias and DPW have done was money well spent. The housing effort was a direct result of feedback we received from residents – people were unhappy with how many trees posed threats to houses and property. Corvias listened, and carried out a deliberate and effective effort to clean up those dangerous trees out there.”
While he’s thankful for the post not taking any damage during the storms, the colonel also hopes that they serve as a lesson to people that they need to prepare for bad weather before it becomes a reality.
“My concern is that we get so many new people at Fort Rucker every day,” he said. “As a team, we do our very best to get information out there in as many different ways as possible to meet the needs of people of all ages. We use social media, websites, newcomers’ briefings, announcements, flyers – every way we can think of to get the information out there.
“When we have these events, people need to already know how to be prepared; how to react and that their family knows how to react; and have all the equipment they need to protect themselves, such as a weather radio or weather alert apps and that their phones are ready and charged – these things are very important,” Gardner said. “If you’re at home, watch the TV stations for up-to-date reports and pay attention to Fort Rucker Weather – they put out updates constantly during severe weather. All of these things are critical to protecting ourselves.
“I’m really proud of our team and how everyone reacted to those potentially dangerous situations,” he added.
Howell agreed that preparation is key to navigating Mother Nature’s often unruly behavior in southeast Alabama.
“The time to prepare for severe weather – thunderstorms, tornados and hurricanes – is now, before the events unfold. We’d like people to know they shouldn’t rely solely only on tornado sirens for their weather information or when to go take cover. Not every location has a siren and not every siren works all the time. The best bets are a tried and true weather radio, or a weather app – there are many free weather apps that are excellent and will give you notifications to your particular location.
“But if you are in an area where you hear tornado sirens, take cover right away and ask questions later,” she added.
Dixon added that when people know there will be severe weather in their area, they should consider staying at home, or at least close to home, and know where the best areas are to ride out dangerous situations, such as a tornado – on a floor in an interior room.
“Have your plan made now, and make sure your entire family knows what to do and where to go,” Howell said. “And stay there until you hear the all clear. It may seem like an eternity, and it may be a while, but it will be time well spent if it keeps you safe.”
For more information on preparing for severe weather, visit Ready Army at https://ready.army.mil/.
That preparedness could come in handy soon as many weather experts are predicting an above-average hurricane season, which starts June 1, after a record-breaking year for named storms in 2020, according to Howell.
But people who call Fort Rucker home should have complete confidence that their weather team will be on top of things.
“We’re probably talking about 200 years of experience, if you put us all together,” Dixon said. “Cindy and I have 18 years each at Fort Rucker alone. We’re a very experienced team with knowledge from many areas.”
Howell agreed with her colleague’s assessment, adding that all members are experienced or retired Air Force weather operations technicians.
“Fort Rucker is in very good hands – we have a great team,” she said. “We’re fully focused on the Army mission – keeping people safe is what we do and why we’re here.”
The weather team consists of Howell, Dixon, and also Tony Jennings, Jason Kendrick, Dennis Rice, Lou Straw and Tori Temple, all meteorological technicians; and Doug Crosby and John Crosby, electronics technicians.