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From Studio Computers to Storm Damage

By: Martha Spencer
By: Martha Spencer

For the first time in my career I was able to not just track a storm in the studio, but report the next day on a family's experience surviving a damaging storm. It was an eye-opening experience...


Wednesday morning the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, OK placed the Florida Gulf Coast northward to Huntsville in a Slight Risk Category, and central Alabama in a Moderate Risk Category for severe weather.

While here in the Wiregrass, most of us made it through the stressful day seeing no strong storms. But here in the 4 Warn Storm Center we watched all day as strong storm after storm developed around Alabama, the Panhandle and eventually into southern and Central Georgia. In the tri-state area at least three dozen tornado warnings were issued. One of them, in a rural area of  northeastern Walton County, in a small community known as Darlington.

Around 10 p.m. Wednesday night I watched this storm, which produced golf ball sized hail and damaging straight line winds develop as it whipped through the area. Connor and I did cut in's, and zero'd in to roads like Punchbowl Rd. and State Road 2.

 Thursday morning damage reports came out through the National Weather Service provided by assessments done by Walton County Emergency Management officials. I decided to head to that area and see what all took place.

Finding the area of the greatest damage was like searching for a needle in a haystack...but after finding a few residents who had some hail damage and blown out windows I was able to find the exact spot where this storm was most intense...that I tracked on the 4 Warn system the night before.

After talking with these residents they told me what it felt like, what it sounded like and put a personal edge to it I have never experienced from a storm I tracked. They showed me their damages and said to head down the driveway across the street.

The family I found there had a large tree uprooted and on top of their demolished mobile home. Just a mile down the road there was no evidence of a storm, aside from a few tree limbs. Most of the roadways that were blocked had been quickly cleared by the town.This family who lost their home were all inside the trailor when the tree came down. They said the wind was so loud they would not have known the tree was even moving, if it had not been for the windows being shattered by large hail.

It took less than 15 minutes for the worst part of the storm that had straight line wind gusts estimated close to 70 mph, just under hurricane strength, to push through. After talking to the family, and them telling their story, I had an even greater respect for mother nature, and found a renewed sense of commitment to my job.

Even though that messy day spared most of us, knowing that I could tell those few families, in that remote area more than an hour and a half away from Dothan, what was headed their way and what they needed to do was an amazing feeling.

I know I am in the right job,

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