No pictures to post unfortunately but we saw some interesting sights. WSR-88Ds from Springfield and Memphis indicate that over 10 inches of rain has fallen in Northeast Arkansas and Southeast Missouri.
In the vicinity of Mammoth Springs, AR, water was running off the hill creating an impressive cascade of water down the hillside. Many streams were overflowing. At one point we saw the local fire department with several vehicles and trucks towing boats. A Sheriff's car was there, too, so we wondered if they were staging for some sort of evacuation or rescue.
Near Ravenden, AR, a small stream had overflowed covering all of the nearby fields. The stream and flood water were at least a half mile wide. The current of the stream was running wide open, and I've never seen those large round hail bales floating down river. A whole field was flooded with the loss of over 100 of those bales. A small campground adjacent to US 63 was flooded but it appeared that no RVs got flooded.
Just south of Jonesboro we've been experiencing a very strong crosswind that keeps our vehicle swaying making it darn hard to type this. So if you catch any errors, I blame them all ont he driver!
Oh, yes, I see from the Storm Prediction Center that Central Alabama is in a slight risk area for day one and day two. So I guess I haven't really left the weather behind me as it will catch up when I get home.
On the road but dry for now!!
We are in Tornado Watch Number 796 and just heard on the radio that there are several Severe Thunderstorm Warnings in effect for counties east of our location. But for now with the thunderstorms ahead of us we are getting a fantastic display of anvil lightning. That's the kind that streaks across the sky with multiple forks. Just moments ago there were two fabulous discharges, one of which looked like it was coming out of the sky at us.
And just this second, cloud to ground lightning seemed to strike one of two tall towers just to the left of our route. The strike was quite bright and the lightning channel seemed to hang there for a second or two. The tower lights did not go out but it was extremely bright in the cloudy early morning sky with just the hint of light on the horizon.
Our drive should be interesting as we trek eastward and then southeast toward home with plenty of weather ahead of us. I've got the digital camera handy and ready to shoot anything that looks interesting.
James and I had an interesting time at the Missouri LEPC Conference. LEPC stands for Local Emergency Planning Committee and this conference had over 200 registrations from Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, and Kansas. We talked to many people about the Stratus Station camera/weather systems. Yesterday afternoon our Internet connection was good so we had one laptop viewing the Central Alabama cameras with the other laptop displaying the BMX radar. We had a crowd at our booth for much of the afternoon. We also had to keep one radar display on the local Springfield WSR-88D because of the interest in weather in southern and eastern Missouri.
I plan to have a web video map discussion on the server tomorrow morning plus I'll be filling in for John Oldshue Sunday. Hope you have a great day.
James Spann said it nicely when he said there is a hint of Fall in the air. The temperature here is lowest I've felt in probably five months - since April. And there is severe clear here, too. It's going to be a sunglasses required type of day.
Yesterday was a beautiful day, too, as we headed from Hamilton toward Springfield traveling through Memphis. Low level moisture produced a few cottonball clouds in Alabama and Mississippi, but we lost the clouds completely by the time we reached Memphis. And I saw something in Northeast Arkansas and Southeast Missouri that we haven't seen in Central Alabama yet - a small splash of color beginning to show up in the trees. That could be happening in extreme North Alabama but it sure wasn't yet on my last trip to Mt. Cheaha about ten days ago.
And the briskness in the air this morning sure feels great.
I've never been to West Plains before and it has been a great experience. The Best Western is a wonderful hotel here with free wifi - yee haa!! We asked the desk clerk, a wonderful, friendly white-haired grandmother like lady about a good place to eat. She suggested Cafe 37 on the town square, so we jumped at the chance to eat at a special place that was not some sort of National or regional chain. Wow, were we rewarded. Cafe 37 is on the square in the Opera House built in 1893 with one of those really neat embossed metal ceilings. And the food choices revealed that there must be a real chef in the kitchen. The service was exceptional and the food was superb. I talked James B. into dessert since he'd never had Creme Bruhle, and it was a wonderful taste sensation in my opinion.
Got to hit the road shortly to get over to Springfield, so I'm going to polish the sunglasses to view southern Missouri as we head west. I hope you have a great day wherever the road takes you! Springfield, here we come.
If you scroll down several posts, you'll find one related to a Sunday around East Alabama. There were a couple of responses about some pictures, so here are a few for you to see.
The donkeys near Mt. Cheaha were just as curious about me as I was about them. But they were very friendly and enjoyed getting their necks scratched when they came over to the fence. The little one on the left had almost white fur in his ears.
A hazy view of Mt. Cheaha taken from several miles away. The view is looking south and the road is SR 281 which runs right to Cheaha State Park. It is a very scenic drive from US 431 with a couple of great overlooks.
During our hike on the Chinnabee Silent Trail to Cheaha Falls we saw a number of interesting mushrooms. One of the most unique was this one which strangely resembled a peach.
Cheaha Falls were a bit dry with very little water running in the stream. This is my wife, Jane, and our dog, Dakota, as we head back toward the trailhead. We hiked about three quarters of a mile from the trailhead on SR 281 to the Cheaha Shelter just above Cheaha Falls. I’m still amazed at the absence of any color change beginning to show. Just a few trees under the immense canopy were beginning to show any signs of color.
From the Cheaha Shelter on the Chinnabee Silent Trail looking approximately east. It has been a very hazy summer in the three or four times we’ve been to Cheaha State Park. Haze or no haze, it is a wonderful place to visit especially if you like nature, quiet times, and leisurely walks.
No pictures to show but we watched five or six deer from our travel trailer this evening. I tried snapping a few shots but the deer are too far away to see clearly. It was thrilling to stand in the woods watching the mother preen her fawn. One deer was not particularly pleased with my presence and stomped her leg several times. She finally snorted loudly and bounded off in the opposite direction with that white tail pointed skyward.
Understand this route will take longer, but you will be rewarded multiple times!
This year, from Birmingham, lets head south on I-59 in the direction of Tuscaloosa. Take the West Blocton/Centreville exit, which is also U.S. 11 and Alabama Highway 5. Many years ago, Alabama 5 was one of the “main drags” between Birmingham and Mobile, and it will play a big role in our journey south this year.
BIBB COUNTY: Go left onto U.S. 11/Alabama 5, and after about two miles you will turn left onto Alabama 5 where it forks away from U.S. 11 at Woodstock. After about 10 miles on Highway 5, turn left (at the blinking yellow light) onto Bibb County Road 24 and into the town of West Blocton.
Stay on Bibb County 24 past the high school and elementary school, and to the Cahaba River (about five miles from the schools).
Why the side trip to the Cahaba River? To see the rare Cahaba River Lily, one of the most beautiful and celebrated icons of Bibb County. Blooming only in the month of May, Bibb County is one of the few place this rare flower can be found in such abundance. The annual Cahaba Lily Festival, in fact, is this Saturday (May 27) at the Cahaba Lily Building on Main Street in West Blocton.
A couple of hundred yards before you can actually see the bridge, turn south (right) on a rough dirt road which runs along the west side of the river. Use your judgment about whether your vehicle can negotiate the road. There is a good stand of lilies just under 1 mile down the road, and the largest stand in the world just over 2 miles down the road. Be sure have have your camera ready... this is one of the greatest photo opportunities in Alabama!
See some great pictures of the lilies here:
After enjoying a rare look at the Cahaba River Lilies, lets go back to West Blocton on Bibb County Road 24. When you reach Alabama Highway 5, turn left and we head south on our trip to the Alabama Gulf coast.
Highway 5 is pretty much a straight shot down to Brent, a town that was almost wiped off the map by a huge tornado on May 27, 1973. The tornado was 33 years ago, but many people still have a vivid memory of that Sunday night (I will write about it in a few days). You will go under U.S. 82, and shortly we will turn left onto Alabama Highway 58. After a mile or so, we will be stopping for the first great eating opportunity of the trip!
The Twix and Tween BBQ joint will be on the left; it is before you reach the Cahaba River bridge. I discovered the Twix and Tween in 1978 when I accepted a job at WSFA-TV in Montgomery, and burned up U.S. 82 between Tuscaloosa and Montgomery on a very regular basis. The food is great (lots of other options in addition to barbeque), and it ranks in the Spann “top five” BBQ joints in Alabama. Enjoy!
Once you finish the meal, head back north on Alabama 58, and we will be veering left on Alabama 25 (before you get back to Alabama 5), through downtown Brent. You will pass the Brent Baptist Church on the left, a church destroyed by the 1973 tornado. One man died in the church, Andrew Mitchell. I have worshipped there many times over the years; you won’t find friendlier people anywhere. There is a plaque near the main entrance about the tornado.
See pictures of the 1973 tornado damage here:
Alabama 25 will merge back with Alabama 5 in a mile or so, and we will be heading south down Alabama 5. Along Highway 5, we see the scenes change as we move from the foothills of the Appalachians to the flat, fertile Black Belt region of central Alabama. Next up: the community of Marion.
PERRY COUNTY: We will continue down Alabama 5 to the Black Belt community of Marion,. While much has been said about the poverty in the Black Belt in recent decades, you can find lots of history and beauty here. You might want to turn off Alabama 5 and check out the town; you will find the campus of Marion Military Institute and Judson College. Judson is the nation’s fifth oldest women’s college in the nation, and is the home of the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame, which is on the first floor of A. Howard Bean Hall.
From Marion will continue south on Alabama 5, crossing U.S. 80 at Browns. When we reach the community of Safford, in Dallas County, staying on Alabama 5 requires a right turn. Safford isn’t much more than the intersection of Alabama 5 and 22, but you can see evidence of the days when this was a busy town on a main route from Birmingham to Mobile. Old gas stations and motels tell the story of better days in years past. Sometimes I wish those old buildings could talk.
WILCOX COUNTY: Several miles down Alabama 5, we come to the community of Alberta where we will be turning left onto Wilcox County road 28, which will take us to Gee’s Bend, a small community isolated by a bend in the Alabama River. This rural road makes a big loop on the north side of the River Bend, along the way you can stop at the Corps of Engineers picnic and playground area for a great view of the water. It is a perfect spot for a snack and a nice long walk. But, the best thing about Gee’s Bend is the people.
Quilts made in Gee’s Bend have become internationally famous; just stop and ask anyone in the community about them. You might even get to see one of them being made!
Here is a Pulitzer Prize article from the Los Angeles times on Gee's Bend published in 2000:
This article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from a couple of months ago shows you how God has blessed the quilt makers since the L.A. Times story:
If you take the time to talk with the wonderful people in Gee's Bend, you might even get to meet Mary Lee Bendolph or some of her friends. Gee’s Bend is one of the most peaceful places in the world, and an Alabama treasure.
Loop around and take Wilcox County 28 back to Alabama 5, where we turn left and head south. At the intersection of Alabama 5 and Alabama 28 near Catherine, we will turn left onto Alabama 28. That will take us across the Alabama River near the Millers Ferry Dam, and on into Camden.
It is interesting to note that downtown Camden is only a few miles from Gee's Bend, and a ferry used to connect the two communities. The ferry was removed during the Civil Rights struggle in the 60s, and there has been a big effort to get it back in service. To my knowledge, the ferry is still not running.
Read more on the ferry here:
In Camden, we will turn off Alabama 28 and onto Alabama 41 south, which is also known as Claiborne Street, and runs right through the middle of town. If you are hungry, J.B. Elliott and I strongly recommend Dallas Soul Food and BBQ, which is owned and operated by Luverne Dallas. We haven't been there in a few years; I hope to drop by on my beach journey in a week or so (yep, I do follow my own advice.
MONROE COUNTY: From Camden, we will stay on Alabama 41 for about 30 miles or so, and that road will take us into downtown Monroeville. I suggest a stop at the Old Courthouse Museum, the Courtroom used as model for famous trial scene in To Kill a Mockingbird, movie based on Pulitzer Prize-winning novel written by Monroeville native Harper Lee. The 16th season of the town's sold-out "Mockingbird" play just wrapped up.
In downtown Monroeville, Alabama 41 merges with Alabama 21, and we will be following Alabama 21 south out of town. In about 10 to 15 miles, in the community of Uriah, lets veer right onto Alabama 59. That is the beginning of the road that leads straight to the public beach in Gulf Shores; but most folks rarely travel the northern part of Alabama 59.
BALDWIN COUNTY: We cross into the northern part of Baldwin County, and will soon be just east of the Mobile/Tensaw Delta, one of the nation's great wetlands.
You can take a quick detour off Highway 59 over to Fort Mimms (watch for the signs; the turn is to the right, or west), a stockade defense built in the early 1800s on the east bank of the Alabama River. There was a horrible massacre at Fort Mimms on August 30, 1813 when over 400 men, women, and children died in an Indian attack.
When we get to Stockton, we will veer right onto Alabama Highway 225, which will continue south, and under I-65. Before reaching Spanish Fort, time to check out Blakeley State Park, a site with some real Civil War history.
Following the fall of nearby Spanish Fort on the night of April 8, 1865, orders were issued to take Blakeley by assault. The General advance began at 5:25 p.m. on April 9, six hours after Lee surrendered at Appomattox. Fort Blakeley fell in the last battle of the Civil War.
Today, you will find remains of earthen forts, old rifle pits, redoubts and battery sites that dot the park's 3,800 acres. There are over 10 miles of nature trails.
Past Spanish Fort, Alabama Highway 225 ends and we take U.S. 98 south through the Eastern Shores communities of Daphne and Fairhope, where you can find some great antique shopping. U.S. 98 will hook around to the west, and in Foley we pick up our old friend Alabama 59 for the 8 mile side to Gulf Shores. You have to stop at Lambert's Cafe in Foley for "throwed rolls" and lots of fun. The wait can be long, but the food is very reasonable and worth the wait.
Alabama 59 dead ends at the Gulf Shores Public Park and the water of the Gulf of Mexico. Don't forget, this place was ravaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2005, and took a glancing blow from Dennis and Katrina last year. You will be pleased to see how far the recovery has come.
Be sure and send us some pictures if you take the "roads less traveled"! Send them to:
Have a safe trip and enjoy!
Getting to Guin is sure easy now with so much of the future I-22 corridor open. But, you know me, I still like the roads less traveled. I didn’t have much time yesterday, so it was straight up the Interstate to Guin. On the way back, however, I did come back to Birmingham via Alabama 269, a winding road from Jasper to Ensley that takes you through communities like Parrish, Copeland Ferry, Pumpkin Center, and Sylvan Springs. You cross over both the Mulberry and Locust Forks of the Black Warrior River, and get a pretty good look at the big operation at Birmingport, where a large volume of coal and other raw material is loaded on barges and sent down river to destinations all over the country and the world. If you try Alabama 269, be aware that large coal trucks are the rule rather than the exception, and you won’t be able to go anywhere in a hurry. But, I still love the drive and the view.
It was been 32 years since Guin was almost wiped out by one of the most violent tornadoes on record in the U.S. But, even to this date, every time I go to the Marion County town my mind drifts back to that big event on April 3, 1974. I was a senior in high school, but did many hours of volunteer work in communities like Guin and Jasper, and the images are still fresh on my mind to this date. A total of 23 people died in Guin that night, and dozens more were injured. The damage was catastrophic. But, the community grieved over the loss of life, and regrouped and rebuilt. In fact, a big revitalization project is underway now in the middle of town that will make Guin look better than ever!
See a great video on the Guin tornado of 1974, produced by Bill Castle and featuring our own J.B. Elliott, here:
Yesterday was a beautiful day for a drive into deep East Alabama to speak to the fourth graders at Kitty Stone Elementary School in Jacksonville. From my place in northern Shelby County, it east on county highway 41 to the community of Dunnavant, and then south on Alabama 25, which takes you over the top of Coosa Mountain and offers a spectacular view of the Coosa Valley.
From the mountain peak, it was down into the valley and into the community of Vandiver, where it was left onto county highway 55, a pretty drive which takes you into St. Clair County, and through the Wolf Creek community. That road dead ends at Cogswell Avenue in Pell City. After a couple of turns, I was on U.S. 231 heading north our of Pell City. Then, at Wattsville it was left onto Alabama 144, which takes you right past National Cement and into downtown Ragland.
Signs in Ragland remind you the community is the home of Rudy York, a Major League Baseball first baseman who played for the Detroit Tigers (1934, 1937-45), Boston Red Sox (1946-47), Chicago White Sox (1947) and Philadelphia Athletics (194.
Once past Ragland, you drive right on top of the Neely Henry Dam on the Coosa River, and into Calhoun County and the community of Ohatchee. We did a Storm Alert show in Ohatchee a couple of years ago and the people were simply great. Alabama 144 winds up at Alexandria, where you turn left onto U.S. 431, and then right onto Alabama 204, the “Rudy Abbott” Highway, in honor of the former Jacksonville State baseball coach. Highway 204 leads you into the heart of Jacksonville and the campus of Jacksonville State. The kids at Kitty Stone Elementary were fun and great listeners. I have had the honor of speaking to the 4th grade at that school in May for many years. It is a great tradition.
The drive back didn't feature the "roads less traveled"; time was a factor and I came back through Gadsden and down I-59. Interstates are nice when you need them!
This past Saturday I did a little “research” for this year’s article. Actually, it was a great excuse to get out of the office after four consecutive days of severe weather and breathe some fresh air. First stop was the Sunshine Farms “U-Pick’Em” strawberry patch, off Chilton County road 37 near Fairview. Tim Minor, who runs the farm, told us he was seeing one of the best crops ever. He sure isn’t kidding; we spent some time and picked several baskets of the delicious berries on a sunny Saturday morning. We weren’t the only ones with that idea; seemed like everyone wanted to be in “Strawberry Fields Forever”. A very nice crowd.
From Sunshine Farms, it was on south into Autauga County and the community of Billingsley, and over to U.S. 82 for a quick jog over to Jim’s Pit Barbeque, which in my humble opinion has the best BBQ in Alabama. That is a very strongly worded statement for someone like me who hangs out at BBQ joints. Jim’s is on U.S. 82 just a few miles north of Billingsley, toward Maplesville. Like the strawberry field, the joint was packed. Guess great minds think alike.
To get to Sunshine Farms, head west out of Clanton on Alabama 22 (like you are going to Maplesville. Turn left onto County Road 37, and go about five to seven miles, and it is on the left.
Be looking for my 2006 version of “Spann’s Best Way To The Bama Beaches” coming soon!
Jason Simpson and I spent much of the day at the Hollis Volunteer Fire and Rescue Service in southern Cleburne County. Thanks to Mike McCormick, the Public Affairs Officer for the Fire Department, for inviting us to come to their Community Awareness Day. The event started off with a couple of passing showers, but by late morning the skies were clearing and people were coming out to the event.
The Cleburne County Emergency Management Agency had their fire and weather safety trailer there for everyone to see and experience fire safety information. The event also featured several candidates for offices in the upcoming November election who were given an opportunity to speak to the audience.
The speakers were followed by the auction of several scrumptous looking cakes and pies. I just missed out on the bidding on a caramel pie, but I'm sure my waistline did not need. One cake went for $80 in some very heated bidding. All proceeds went to the fire department.
Below are some pictures from the event as well as a couple of scenic shots taken along the way.
Jason Simpson with the Storm Chaser at Hollis Cross Roads, Cleburne County.
The crowd listens to several speakers at Hollis Cross Roads, Cleburne County.
Jason Simpson talking about the Storm Chaser at Hollis Cross Roads.
The Hollis Fire and Rescue Service.
The view taking some back roads returning to Birmingham from Hollis Cross Roads.
Just a sample of the beauty of East Alabama.
I boarded StormChaser 33/40 early yesterday morning for a drive into West Alabama. The destination was Berry Elementary School, in Fayette County, where I was to speak to the fourth, fifth, and sixth graders.
As usual, I took the roads less traveled.
From the Birmingham metro I took the Valley Road exit, which leads to Hueytown and points west. During the next several miles through Hueytown, the name of the road will change from Valley Road to Allison-Bonnet Parkway to Warrior River Road. And, once you get into Rock Creek the name changes again; this time to Lock 17 Road.
That road to me will always bring back memories of the horrible F5 tornado of April 8, 1998 that killed 32 people in that part of Jefferson County. The most haunting moment comes when I drive by the former site of Oak Grove School. I did dozens of weather programs in that old gym over the years; now it is a vacant field. A sign has been erected that says a tornado memorial is coming to the site in the future.
You can learn more about the Oak Grove Memorial Park on this web site.
Past the old school site it was on to Camp Oliver Road, which becomes Franklin Ferry road as it crosses the Black Warrior River on the Jefferson/Walker County line.
Driving through the community of Tutwiler, you can look off to the left and see the strobes of our 2,000 foot tower in northern Tuscaloosa County that is the home of our Channel 33 transmitting antenna.
After a quick jog to the south along Alabama 69, it was onto County Road 46, which takes you into the community of Berry. This town was hit hard during the Superoutbreak of tornadoes on April 3, 1974, and many people recall that night just like it happened yesterday. The kids at the school were great; when I go into that gym I recall the first weather program I did at Berry, which was exactly 25 years ago. How time flies!
Thanks again to everyone at Berry for their kindness. Trips like these are the best part of my job!