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Beyond Devastation: F5 Tornado Survivor Speaks to Stormchasing Students

Nine University of Mobile honors students are preparing to embark on a week-long field experience in the midwestern United States with associate professor of biology and veteran stormchaser Steve Carey.

The students will be seeking tornados, supercells and severe weather patterns in an upcoming field experience. The field experience will be the culmination of a semester course on severe weather phenomena. Students are learning about the formation and structure of weather patterns and forecasting and analysis methods to apply on the field while seeking to encounter severe storms first-hand.

Students will post blogs on the UMobile website,, throughout their experience from May 14 through May 21.

The students read the book “F5” by Mark Levine as part of their course material. The book describes the super tornado outbreak that hit Athens, Ala., in 1974. Dr. Fred Lackey, assistant to the president of the University of Mobile and a survivor of the outbreak, is featured as a character in the book.

Lackey visited the class to provide his first-hand account of the phenomenon that forever changed his community. Lackey, who was the pastor of a local congregation at the time, survived the tornado passing overhead by locking arms with others seeking shelter in a ditch. He also participated in rescue and recovery efforts after the storm.

Tragically, 50 people died as a result of the two tornadoes that hit near Athens, Ala., that day, and hundreds more were injured. The tornadoes, with windspeeds between 207 and 318 miles per hour, were classified as two of the most powerful storms that occurred during the outbreak.

“The impact of the tornado, as devastating as it was, brought the community together,” said Lackey. “The resulting cohesion of the community surpassed racial, economic, political and social barriers. That cohesion was beyond the devastation of an F5 (tornado).”

Though Lackey never forgot the horrifying destruction left in the tornado’s wake, he advised the students to “live each day as if it’s your last. With that kind of attitude, you can face anything.”

Students participating in the stormchasing experience are:

Ashton Arnold, a junior majoring in marine science from Birmingham, Ala.
Alisha Britnell, a sophomore majoring in English from Birmingham, Ala.
Hollie Cooper, a freshman majoring in art from Seguin, Texas.
Joshua Hembree, a junior majoring in political science from Mobile, Ala.
Lane Keeton, a freshman majoring in theology from Cordova, Ala.
Ashlee Lassiter, a sophomore majoring in history education and musical theater from Prattville, Ala.
Kelsey Moore, a freshman majoring in worship leadership from Auburn, Ala.
Daniel Wattier, a junior majoring in psychology and sociology from Mobile, Ala.
Amy Wright, a junior majoring in global business from Mobile, Ala.

(By Amy Wright, Media Relations Writer in the University of Mobile Office of Media Relations.)

Dr. Fred Lackey shares his experiences as a survivor of a tornado outbreak.

Front row from left: Ashlee Lassiter, Kelsey Moore, Ashton Arnold, Amy Wright,
Dr. Fred Lackey. Back row: Alisha Britnell, Lane Keeton, Daniel Wattier, Joshua

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