The striking thing about my 340-mile drive this morning from Atlanta to Mobile was how beautiful it was: blue skies, low humidity, warm and calm. There was no sign of the devastation that had visited the area just a few hours earlier. The  tornadoes , around 165 of them,that killed almost 300 people in Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee and Mississippi, with the bulk of those deaths (180) occurring in Alabama, mostly skirted Atlanta. We lost power for a couple of hours overnight, and at the end of my street some electrical wiring had unspooled, knocking over a cable box and a traffic sign, but that was the only sign of them I saw.

But they also skirted much of Alabama. Such is the nature of tornadoes: even large ones deliver not the broad, flattening destruction of a hurricane, but pinpoint devastation. And the tornadoes were indeed huge: the one that cut through  downtown Tuscaloosa  was about a mile wide and may have touched ground for up to 176 miles with winds up to 200 miles per hour.

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