Opinion | ‘Look it up’: Why students should remember April 2011

Don’t let those lives be lost in vain.


A deadly tornado touched down in Tuscaloosa on April 27, 2011, in a day of destruction that killed 53 people in the county. CW File

Abby McCreary, Contributing Writer

Jim Kish remembers April 27, 2011, beginning as a beautiful spring day. As an electrical engineer working at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Athens, Alabama, he was enjoying the nice weather until he had to return back home to Chicago. Unfortunately, the nice weather didn’t last long. That day, there were 62 confirmed tornadoes across the entire state of Alabama as part of a storm system that later became known as a tornado super outbreak.

Throughout the day, clouds turned into storms which turned into tornadoes. Kish described what it was like seeing the tremendous power of these storms as they appeared over the tree line.

“It’s like when you see a jet going in for a landing, and you’re up close, and it looks like that jet is just crawling along but in reality, it’s going 200 mph.”

Although she was only nine years old at the time, UA freshman and computer engineering major Ashtan Moore remembers the effects of the storm more than anything else. Schools were swept away. Houses were stripped of their roofs. Grass was pulled up from the ground, blade by blade. Everyone lost something, whether it was their power, their home or even their life.

Moore recalled a story about a county official who was in Louisiana during the storm. When she came back home, she was lost in her own county. 

“She couldn’t tell where she was at because the whole landscape of the place had changed,” she says. “It was unrecognizable.”

Now, 10 years after those tornadoes, the landscape remains affected, but in a more positive way: there are storm shelters everywhere. Whether they are built with the sole purpose of being storm shelters or they are buildings, like school gyms, designed to be a safe place during a tornado, these buildings are proof that the state of Alabama has learned its lesson.

The same can’t be said for The University of Alabama student population.

The spring 2021 semester became two days shorter when severe weather rocked campus. But many students didn’t take the storms seriously. On the second day, it felt like even fewer people took precautions. Freshmen roommates Hannah Telken, psychology major, and Alexa Machols, finance major, were among the students taking the storms seriously, but even they were mostly unaware of just how bad severe weather in Alabama can get. 

On the first day, they took refuge in their sorority house, but on the second, they stayed in their Ridgecrest South dorm room until a tornado warning prompted them to go down to the first floor hallway, which was deemed the best refuge area in the building. Both had heard of the 2011 tornadoes before, but like many out-of-state students, they were unaware of its true extent. 

“We heard that it was scary and traumatizing,” Telken says. “But honestly, we didn’t think about it that much during this year’s tornado days. It was just nice to have a break from school.”

While this semester’s severe weather is nowhere near as dangerous as 2011’s tornado super outbreak, Ashtan Moore still wishes that more students could be aware of just how serious the situation can get.

“Many students don’t know about what happened in 2011,” she says. “So look it up.”

Surely the pictures of ominous clouds, destroyed buildings and torn-apart families would bring a whole new level of reality to the event, even a decade after it occurred.