C'burg native suffers injuries in north Alabama
by LINDSEY HOLLAND
Apr 29, 2011 | 5297 views |  0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When the shift of meteorologist Gary Dobbs ended, he headed home. He had been up since 4 a.m. and saw his north Alabama viewers through the first round of storms Wednesday morning.

But when he saw wall cloud rotation as he neared his home that afternoon, he knew he had been called on once again. He called WAAY 31, the station where he is employed, and described in detail the storm to viewers from his cell phone.

In the spring it’s not unusual for residents of Alabama to have their televisions turned to a local channel with a meteorologist reporting threats of a tornado. If the threat turns to a warning, the weathermen will quickly ask their viewers to seek shelter. They normally do this from the safety of their television stations inside, not the front porches of their homes.

Hail can be heard hitting the ground and wind muffles the phone connection as the conversation airs. Dobbs describes the lightening as “intense” and the size of the hail as “golf balls.”

“Belinda isn’t home today,” he says of his wife. Dobbs illustrates the storm from his porch in Mount Hope, Ala. He says he’s near his safe place. Then he continues, “As a matter of fact, it looks like it’s coming straight for this direction. If I had to judge what this is, I’d say it’s an F4. I’m going to have to go inside.”

The sounds of high winds obstruct the connection. Through a frantic tone, Dobbs says he has to go inside once again and the connection cuts off.

Vicki Southern, Dobb’s sister, lives in Childersburg, where Dobbs is from originally. She said her brother called and recounted the gory details of the events that followed after he went off the air.

“He was going to go to his storm shelter that he has out in his backyard,” Southern said. He opened the door to try to go to it and the winds were at least 133 miles per hour and he said he could not even get out the door. He said, ‘I’m going to go in and get in the closet in my bedroom.’ All of a sudden, the floor that he was kneeling on in the closet, it let go and the tornado sucked him out up under the house with the floor, and it threw him.”

Southern said her brother was thrown about 40 feet from his house, saying it was more like flying, really. Dobbs was thrown to the ground, after which Southern said he put his hands on his head.

“He would say, ‘OK, Lord, that hit me and I’m still alive. OK, Lord, that hit me and I’m still alive.’ He said he just kept doing that,” Southern said.

When the storm had finally passed, he mustered the strength to pull himself from the rubble of debris that had accumulated on top of him.

“He said it just leveled his house,” Southern said. “There was nothing left of Gary’s house. Nothing left of his barn. It demolished his house.”

In the distance, Dobbs heard faint cries for help. The door of his storm shelter had blown off and debris had fallen on his friends who sought shelter there. Luckily, all in the shelter suffered no major injuries. Yet in an adjacent yard, Dobbs saw his elderly neighbor who was not as fortunate. Dobbs was taken to the hospital.

“For about six hours we didn’t know where he was,” Southern said. “Phone lines were down. I was calling around hospitals trying to find out where he was.”

Although he suffered injuries, Dobbs is expected to be OK. Fans are hoping he recovers quickly. He attends Highland Baptist Church in Florence along with Becky Nix, who noted on his Facebook fan page that she was praying for him. She said Dobbs is a wonderful person.

Southern said her brother takes his job seriously and cares for other people. While his physical injuries may heal with time and his house can be rebuilt, the lives that Dobbs potentially saved with his live account could not have been replaced.

Once during a stint to build credibility for his career, Dobbs ran a campaign saying, “Gary said it would be like this.” For the tornado that hit Lawrence County, indeed he did.

Southern said Dobbs was expected to be released from hospital Friday afternoon. “But he doesn’t have a home to go to,” she said.

Contact Lindsey Holland at lholland@dailyhome.com.