One point five miles wide. Walk it on your lunch break to get a sense of how wide that is. It should take you, at a brisk pace, about thirty minutes, give or take a few traffic lights. That's how wide the tornado that hit Tuscaloosa was at its peak. The tornado cell averaged about 60 miles per hour with maximum winds of 190 miles per hour. It would cover its own maximum width much, much faster than you would, even at a full run.
We could write awe-inspiring details of tornado damage all day, and not just about Tuscaloosa. This is partly because we've been in a couple, including the one that hit the Georgia Dome while we were in it watching basketball and smashed the corner of one of the Cabbagetown Cotton Mill Lofts in 2008 like it was a child's diorama. Flying in to OKC just after the Moore, OK tornado -- a full-on F5 -- you could look down and see the fresh gouges in the ground pointing like runaway truck tracks toward trashed suburban neighborhoods. It's awe, but not the generous kind. It's the inevitable, undeniable kind you feel when you see something so powerful your nervous system shorts out and leaves you with zero ability to process or run or fight. It overwhelms.
Tuscaloosa still has an obvious line drawn through the city: where the tornado was, and where it wasn't. Parts of the city look like they're struggling to grow out a very severe and uneven haircut. Roll Bama Roll has a few things on it today, including an interview with a first responder who worked that day, but the thing we'll remember forever about that day was and still is Gene Stallings. In the face of his town suffering, he turned on a grill and started cooking. He did something small in the face of something huge and bad. Just remember that today, if you want to take something away from all that. That's more than enough sometimes.