McCULLOUGH: Stunned by the storm

No matter how long I live I will always be amazed at the power of an angry wind.

I have been to Tuscaloosa, Ala., either visiting family or passing through to visit family at least 100 times. Parts of it are as familiar to me as my own hometown, but no matter how many photos I looked at Thursday I couldn’t recognize it.

First the good news: As far as we can tell, all my family members are alive, despite at least three of them being in the direct path of that devilish tornado you’ve no doubt seen on television as many times as I’ve been to Tuscaloosa. My aunt and uncle’s brand-new car is crushed under a tree and they have a hole in their house, but their house still stands, as does my cousin’s next door.

The house on the other side was destroyed, along with hundreds of other homes and businesses in the area of 15th Street and McFarland Boulevard — Highway 82 as we’ve always called it. I’ve been watching television, visiting The Tuscaloosa News website and trolling the Associated Press wire trying to see something that looks familiar in the devastation. So far, none of it does.

In fact, it looks like a wasteland. The images of so many trees snapped in two and stripped of bark and limbs among overturned vehicles, decimated buildings and tons of junk and debris remind me of photos from the battle of the Somme in World War I. You just wouldn’t think a place could be that utterly destroyed.

But it is, of course, along with dozens of other places across the Southeast. A few towns here in Georgia are unrecognizable as well today.

I’ve heard reports calling this the worst tornado outbreak since 1974 when more than 300 people were killed. After looking at pictures of Tuscaloosa and Ringgold, I’m afraid we might top that before it’s over.

But as bad as it is, I do believe that old saying “It could’ve been worse,” is actually true this time.

I was only 3 years old in 1974, so I don’t really remember that outbreak, but I can tell you this — there was no such thing as Live VIPIR radar or any of the other fancy gadgets being used by the meteorologists nowadays on the Atlanta television stations.

TV people get a bad rap sometimes, especially the weather people. It’s pretty easy to get upset when the guy told you it would be sunny and it rains on your picnic, although these folks are trying to predict the future after all. They’re going to be wrong sometimes.

But after what I saw Wednesday night, their excuses are becoming fewer. Their tools can now see hail storms, debris fields and the tornadoes themselves apparently. And the accuracy seems to be excellent. Time after time Wednesday night Ken Cook told me there was almost a certainty of a tornado on the ground in this place or that. Thursday I woke up to find tornadoes had indeed hit every one of those places.

These men and women who stayed on the air all night delivering warnings to people in danger no doubt saved lives. Keep that in mind the next time your picnic gets a little wet.

E-mail Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.