Sixty-eight years ago Miss Ann Elizabeth Fowler Hodges was napping on her sofa when a meteorite the size of a grapefruit crashed through her ceiling and struck her on the side.
She was severely injured. She could walk, but not without shouting unchristian expletives with each step.
This happened outside Sylacauga, Alabama. The year was 1954. Reportedly, witnesses from three states saw a streak of fire in the sky and heard loud booms. Later that afternoon, when Ann’s husband, Eugene, got home from work he asked how her day had gone. She told him there had been, quote, “a little excitement.”
“A little excitement” is exactly how I would describe living in Alabama. Especially when it comes to things careening from the sky.
Because in the two weeks I’ve been an official resident of the Yellowhammer State, it has already snowed, sleeted, flooded, hailed, and today they’re calling for tornadoes. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if tomorrow a meteor the size of Lebron James crashed through my roof, followed by a category-three hurricane.
This morning, I awoke to read my newspaper amidst a Biblical downpour. The first news headline I read said: “Tornadoes, damaging winds, and hail will all be possible today.”
It was like the fortune cookie from hell.
All this weather business got me thinking. What kind of weather am I to expect now that we’re living in Alabama? To learn more about this pressing issue, I contacted one of my friends in town who is a local weather buff.
My friend, Bucky, is one of those guys who has high-tech meteorological equipment mounted on his roof and knows everything about weather. He carries a picture of James Spann in his wallet.
“Alabama is unusual, meteorologically,” said Bucky. “It’s one of the only states with both a spring and autumn tornado season.”
Simply put, Alabama has a reputation for bizarre weather. If hurricanes, tornadoes, or flash floods don’t get you, an earthquake will.
Yes. Earthquakes. There have been 400 major earthquakes recorded in the Twenty-Second State since the late 1800s. There have been 51 earthquakes within the LAST TWO YEARS ALONE.
The largest earthquake in Alabamian history, the Irondale “quake” of 1916, occurred just five miles up the road from my front door. Geologists estimate that it was a 5.1 on the Richter Scale. Many geologists are eagerly awaiting for the sequel any day now, and have calculated that the fault line probably runs just beneath my guest bathroom.
And if that doesn’t scare you, let’s talk about meteorites again. Remember the story of the lady napping on her sofa? That’s nothing.
Few events in Alabama history are more vivid than the leonid meteor shower of 1833 when approximately 150,000 meteors the size of Chevy Caprices crashed toward Earth, and in the words of one Alabamian farmer, “set the sky on fire.”
This historic event which inspired poems, novels, the famous song, “Stars Fell on Alabama,” is not at all uncommon. There have been lots of meteorites found in Alabama, fresh from the Final Frontier.
“But statistically,” Bucky added, “you’re more likely to die by tornadoes in Alabama.”
Alabama’s unsavory history with tornadoes goes back to 1884, when one of the biggest tornado outbreaks recorded in U.S. history occurred, spawning 37 tornadoes in only a few hours. Experts didn’t think this tragedy could ever be outdone, but—big surprise—it was.
In 1908, there was another outbreak of approximately 50 confirmed tornadoes in Alabama. And again, in 2011, a “super outbreak” storm system produced nearly 270 tornados across the U.S., and claimed 238 lives of Alabamians in only one day.
The fact is, last year Alabama had the second-largest percentage increase in tornado frequency. Alabama also currently ranks second in the nation for tornadoes by square mile of land, trailing Mississippi.
“If you’re looking for screwed-up weather,” said Bucky, “this is definitely your state.”
And I know he’s telling the truth because the weather in Birmingham has officially been off its meds lately.
On Saturday morning, for example, I awoke to half an inch of snow on our driveway. The next day it was 74 degrees and the neighborhood kids were eating red-white-and-blue popsicles, playing in the sprinklers.
Three days later I was caught in a Genesis-style downpour while running errands downtown. I was driving home when a waterfall slammed into my truck like the Splash Mountain ride at Disney World.
When I arrived at an underpass near 21 Street South, I was greeted by a long line of standstill traffic. A tea-colored river was rushing across the highway, submerging cars and trucks, leaving people to wade across chest-deep whitewater currents. It was horrifying.
Meantime, many Good Samaritans were heroically sprinting from their vehicles, rushing toward victims to helpfully shoot iPhone video footage.
What I want to know is, what comes next? In only seven days I’ve seen all four seasons. Tomorrow there could be a blizzard. The next day could feature a seismic event, a sinkhole, or possibly, we can’t rule this out, a plague of frogs and locusts. Either way, it’s great to be in Alabama.
Remind me never to nap on my sofa without wearing a helmet.