From staff, wire reports
Within a year’s time, North Alabama residents may be able to experience the science and aftermath of the April 27, 2011, tornadoes as part of an interactive exhibit.
The National Weather Service in Huntsville was recently awarded a Preserve America grant through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which will be used to create an exhibit for the Sci-Quest Museum, located on Wynn Drive in Huntsville.
Chris Darden, meteorologist in charge at the NWS in Huntsville, said the exhibit will likely be a combination of scientific weather data about the tornado outbreak and will also include photos, video, pieces of debris and other ephemera related to the event.
“The primary goal is to make sure (the information) doesn’t get lost, and the underlying secondary goal would be earth science and safety education,” he said. “We envision that the interactive display will tell the story about April 27, the people preparing the forecast and what happened that day in terms of the weather event itself.”
Ideally, Darden said, the exhibit will include radar charts, warning information, how the first responders reacted and information about the day after the storms. He said the exhibit would also draw from local news agencies like The News Courier to help tell the story.
Darden said the tornado outbreak has piqued the science interest of many residents in the Tennessee Valley. A NWS-sponsored storm spotter class held in Madison County last fall, he said, drew scant numbers because residents were likely suffering from “disaster fatigue.”
Another class held this spring, however, drew more than 300 interested residents. Darden said the fire marshal had to start turning away people at one point.
“There’s a combination of people wanting to move on from it but who are asking why it was such a big event. Some want to know, ‘What made it stand out, and can it happen again?’” he said. “Those are the types of questions we’ll try to answer with the exhibit.”
The next step on the exhibit will be to work with a graphic artist on the design. He said a realistic goal of when the exhibit might open would be by the end of this year or early 2013, though he added it could open much sooner.
“We’re going to focus on primarily North Alabama and try to get some stories from the community,” Darden said. “We want people to realize the force of nature and remember it in the right way. We want to honor the people who were most affected by it.”
Efforts are also under way in Birmingham to pay tribute to how central Alabama was impacted by the April 27 tornadoes. The McWane Science Center will feature an exhibit through October entitled “The Tornadoes of April 27: Looking Back — Moving Forward.”
Still images and film will recount the aftermath of that Wednesday. Artifacts from the community, together with documentaries made by Daniel Payne Middle School students, will reveal the heartbreak and personal tragedies.
A mix of newspaper photographs, television footage and a large timeline display will chart the course of the storms. Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will show satellite images, forecasts and video. Maps provided by the Geological Survey of Alabama will disclose how crucial information was provided to first responders.
Most important, visitors can take away valuable information about preparedness in case another disaster threatens, whether a tornado, hurricane, lightning, flood or winter weather.
“We’re trying to tell our community story and the story of the science behind it,” said curator Erik Lizee. “We don’t want it to be sensational. We want to be factual. We want kids to know what can happen so they can be prepared, but we don't want to scare people unnecessarily.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.