As a child I was deathly scared of storms, especially tornados. I didn’t mind slow rumbling thunder off in the distance, or bright sheet lightening way beyond the trees, but when the wind started picking up, my thoughts went straight to tornados. After having driven by to see the aftermath of more than one major spring storm, I gained a healthy respect for windy storms; tornados were my scariest threat.
Later in life, in my mid thirties, I would experience a storm that did nothing more than to support my belief. During storms, I prefer to ignore what is going on around me and pretend nothing is wrong. I may hear the wind or see the driving rain, but until I feel the house move, everything is OK. It’s sort of like the “head in the sand” defense.
On one particular occasion we could tell something was going on outside, but we didn’t really see the effects. So, no effects, everything must be OK. I had the urge to satisfy my curiosity though. I just wanted to see what was happening outside. I went to our back door and opened it slightly. I could see trees blowing every direction but they were all still intact.
I had a beam spotlight so I stepped out of the door and aimed the spotlight up at the sky. What I saw made me slowly back up, close the door and go sit down and mind my own business. What I saw was frightening enough without it being a tornado.
Directly above our house was a collection of full, billowy, deep black clouds that were dancing around in the sky. These clouds were rolling and tumbling as though we were watching a fast forward film of them. I’ll never forget the powerful image they cast as they commanded the sky with their strength and courage. I have never seen clouds move across a sky like that, so fast and unencumbered. I didn’t see a tornado but I definitely saw the clouds that must have been chasing one.
Later still in life I was in our rented farm home with my new wife, her daughter and my son. The kids were teenagers. We all went to bed knowing there were supposed to be storms tonight but we figured some rain and a little wind; maybe thunder and lightening. The next thing I remember was my son shaking my arm and trying to wake me up.
I finally woke up, looked around and saw the whole family surrounding my bed looking at me. They couldn’t understand how I could be sleeping. It seems the storm had woken all of them. The wind and the shaking of the house was so dramatic that it moved my sons single bed, with him in it, from one side of a ten foot wide room to the other side. That little bit of trickery is what brought him downstairs and into my bedroom.
We didn’t go outside to look but we did gather together there in Mom and Dad’s bedroom and pray for deliverance. Needless to say, we made it. The next day I kept the kids out of school and we drove around the countryside looking at what may have happened. We saw more trees pulled up and twisted like a braid then we could count. These were not little trees either; they were up to 12 – 15 inches across. We drove further away and found ditches, at intersections, filled with little round balls of hail. Some of the balls were as large as a quarter. Roofs were missing, doors had been blown off, cars and trucks were turned over, it was certainly a mighty spring storm’s aftermath.
The one spring storm that stayed with me all these years though happened when I was only eight years old. It was hot, very hot that year. We would have done most anything for just a little relief. One typically hot, sticky evening after we had finished dinner and Mom was cleaning up we noticed the air getting just a little cooler. We didn’t have a TV or even a radio so we had no idea what any weather forecasts were. I went outside and it was an eerie gray, orange type of color. The clouds were black and rolling. They were passing overhead very fast. I had never seen clouds roll past that fast. I couldn’t hear any birds and I didn’t see any either.
It started to rain hard, tiny droplets that stung when they hit. I decided to go inside when I saw little white balls of sleet hitting the ground. Then they seemed to grow right in front of me. They were falling hard and fast and were about the size of a quarter. I got hit a couple of times but luckily I was close to the house. I was almost there when Mom poked her head out the door and started calling for me to come in. I ran in just as a huge washtub flew past me and into the neighbor’s yard.
I ran to Mom’s arms. She drew me close to her and we turned and looked out the kitchen window. We were immobilized; all we could do was to stand and look. I had my arm around Mom’s waist and she had her arm over my shoulders. She was still in her apron with the dishrag in her hand. We stared as things flew past our window right in front of us. Someone’s lawn furniture, a tire, an umbrella, a big one, all kinds of things were blowing by. There was lots of dust, branches, leaves, twigs and general debris.
Then we saw the blackest, ugliest cloud either of us had ever seen. It was spinning and twisting and moving so fast I could hardly keep my eyes on it. It was shaped like a funnel that reached down out of the sky and dragged it’s finger across the earth. It was coming directly at our house. Mom immediately started praying out loud for the Lord to spare us and to protect us. We watched as the funnel so gracefully removed a tree in our front yard, right from the ground and threw it someplace else; it happened with such ease.
Just like that, it was over. All the stories I have ever heard of how tornados start, act and end were proven to me on that fateful day. It started in the middle of an awfully hot day. It came upon us in an instant, roared it’s deafening train like thunder and lasted no more than a few seconds. When it was over it was silent and everything was beautiful again.
We went outside and saw what kind of mess our tornado had created. Our yard was full of everything imaginable. A tree was down in our front yard and it was surrounded by all sizes of branches and limbs from the other trees. The three houses we could see from our place though were all still standing. The tornado came and went and left its calling card but it didn’t devastate our neighborhood.
That was my first and I hope to be my last and only, experience with a tornado. I have been in storms since then, some of them pretty severe, but never anything like this. I empathize with anyone and everyone who is ever a victim of a spring tornado. I know first hand of their strength and their ambiguity in selection of targets. In those few minutes I gained a very healthy respect for nature, the weather, spring storms and especially tornados.