April 27, 2011 is a day that will never be erased from the minds of Alabama residents. On that day over 350 tornadoes ripped through several Southern states leaving 348 people dead, injuring thousands others and causing billions of dollars in damage. Journalist Kim Cross examines what happened on April 27, 2011 in her new book What Stands in A Storm. From the local meteorologists who had predicted the outbreak days before to the storm chasers out in the thick of things to University of Alabama college students trying to ride it out in a safe place to the first responders tasked with finding the lost and helping the injured. Kim Cross transports you to that day, that place, where all eyes were on Mother Nature and the havoc she can wreak.
What Stands in A Storm starts with the events leading up to the day of April 27th. The predictions that were made by scientists with decades of school and experience between them. As most people are waking up the morning of the 27th Meteorologist Jason Simpson and James Spann, on air personalities, were well into their workday already issuing the first of many tornado warnings to come that day. We also meet Danielle Downs, a University of Alabama college student who was finishing up her senior year and getting ready for her sister's upcoming wedding. She and her two roommates lived off campus on a tree-lined street. We meet dozens of other ordinary people who started their day not knowing what was going to happen, but aware that the weather was going to play a large part in how it played out. In heart-pounding, spine-chilling fashion Kim Cross builds the tension as the EF5 & EF4 tornadoes build and bare down on Tuscaloosa and the surround communities.
What Stands in A Storm finishes with the aftermath. With the destruction. With the families racing to the Tuscaloosa area to find their missing loved ones. Kim Cross tells heartbreaking story after heartbreaking story that leaves you feeling as if your heart has been ripped out. But the resilience of the families that lost everything will give you hope and lift your soul. The way the people of the South, of the country, banded together to get things done will make your heart smile. And the very last pages of the book is a dedication and list of all 252 Alabamians who perished that day.
It has been a very long time since I read a book that sent chills down my arms. A long time since I read a book that made me cry so hard I could not see the words on the pages. Having grown up in Southwest Iowa the weather in springtime is always at the forefront of everyone's minds. I grew up in a house that always had a radio on so we could listen for weather reports. I now live in an area of the country not conducive to tornadic weather and I find myself almost nostalgic for those springtime thunderstorms. I almost have almost forgotten the anxiety that riddled me whenever I heard that "conditions were ripe for tornadoes." The careful planning I took to prepare for bad weather. Kim Cross reminded me that tornadoes are not something to be "nostalgic" about. They are real and they are deadly.
Bottom line - in What Stands in A Storm author Kim Cross puts you in the heart of the storm in such a way that I am not sure has ever been done before. She has put faces and names and stories to the people who were killed or injured that day and has done so in such a way that you will never forget. Hands down the best book I have read this year, if not ever.