Paul Barys reflects on the lessons of April 27th - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Paul Barys reflects on the lessons of April 27th

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CHATTANOOGA -

(WRCB) - I've worked alongside Paul Barys 27 years.  I've witnessed firsthand his commitment to meteorology and I've seen his commitment to the people of the Tennessee Valley.

He was tested beyond belief on the day a series of tornadoes and three waves of powerful storm systems moved through. Thousands are grateful for his dedication. 

I'm glad he agreed to look back with us on the most important day of his career.

Paul told me, "You don't think about these things, but your whole career - and I've been in television for 37 years - and your whole career points to an event like that."

The "event" was actually a daylong series of severe weather systems.  April 27th, 2011 would be like no other for Paul and all of us in the Tennessee Valley. 

Paul's career started in 1973.  He was working the day 330 people died in a massive tornado outbreak.  And he remembers it vividly. Paul says, "It was 1974; we didn't have satellite pictures we have now, we definitely didn't have the radars we have now."    

Technology has changed everything.  In 1974 the weather service issued a tornado warning only after one had been spotted by someone on the ground.  "There's no way I could have told you 20 minutes ahead of time back in 1974 there was a tornado coming."

But last April 27, he told us when to take cover. The latest technology, the VIPIR, and Doppler radar helped meteorologists see the rotation of tornadoes as they were forming. 

Paul says when he gave out the warning, he was the last person in a long line of people who were putting out the warnings.  And he credits the National Weather Service, Doppler radar and Channel 3 for purchasing the best equipment available.  He says he speaks with other meteorologists around the country and there's really no better equipment available.

After his twelve and a half hours of delivering the weather many viewers expressed their gratitude. Someone even started a Facebook page calling him a hero, and there's a fan page on Facebook. Paul is embarrassed by the attention, but he's glad to have a platform to spread the word.  He still warns us to get away from mobile homes, saying a ditch in the rain is safer than a mobile home.  He says every family should have a plan, and a weather radio.

Thousands watched on April 27 2011. Channel 3 stayed with the weather.  David Karnes and Nick Austin started the coverage that morning, and Paul came on the air just after noon. Before that day, he had never stayed on the air for more than an hour and a half. He laughs when he reveals he took only four bathroom breaks.  But, really, nothing could have kept him away from warning our viewers.

He does have some lighthearted recollections about it, saying, "When this kept going on and on I saw these lines it was almost like, I felt like I was in Groundhog Day. It was just a situation that would never end."

He was no doubt fatigued at about 10:15; we showed the first video of the EF-4 tornado over Ringgold.  Paul says that's when the reality hit him. He'd been looking at radar pictures all night.   Paul said, "Because everything else is theoretical.  I'm looking at radar pictures, but when you see that (video) you know people are dying. When I saw the size of that thing, I knew people were dying and I was so sad. I had to stop talking for a while. It still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it, but, I'm so glad more people didn't die." 

As he reflects on that day Paul says if any good comes from it, it will be a better informed public.  Paul says no one says the mountains protect us from tornadoes anymore.   And people are more aware of the deadly potential of severe storms.  And he hopes families will buy weather radios and keep fresh batteries in them. 

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