Thankfully, I wasn’t. My family wasn’t either. But three days before Thanksgiving, I stood stunned as I watched a tornado cross in front of me and then (I learned minutes later) travel on to destroy neighbors’ houses.
Before it hit, I was banging away at my keyboard trying desperately to finish a volunteer project that had been looming for some time. I’d been at it all day to avoid the feeling that I’d forgotten to add that “one great bit of info.” (This typically happens after I hit “send.”)
We live in the country. Can’t hear any sirens unless I’m outside, the wind is perfect and I cup my ear (a lot.) It was nearly 70 degrees in November. The sky had been a tumultuous mess all day, so I’d been pretty calm about it. I knew conditions were perfect, but this is often the case here in the Midwest.
I was focused. That day, I didn’t even bother to have Wunderground in the background. I wasn’t listening to a radio, I just typed.
My cousin called. “Are you in your basement?”
“Get there. There’s a warning. It’s heading toward the state line.”
From my driveway, a person could throw a ball to the state line. (Not me, but a person with a good arm…)
I looked out at the sky. Not great, but not much different than much of the day. I saved my work on all 4 pages. I silently warned Murphy not to take my computer in a funnel and fly it into Lake Michigan (that would be just like him… after all, I was almost done.) I called to the basement to see if my hubby was in his office. (He’s always on one weather website or another and calms me down when I freak about what’s out the window.) No answer.
Phone still in hand, I went downstairs, now with greater speed. I live in a house of glass with a walk-out basement. I wasn’t even completely certain of the “safest” place to huddle. I opened the front door. It was pouring. Our German Shepherd shot in like, “Thank God! Have you SEEN it out there??” (He’s typically keen to remain outside no matter how inclement.)
His reaction escalated my fear. “C’mon Sully!” Grabbed flashlight while calling husband’s cell. Ran to basement, checking out windows. Sheets of rain, dark clouds. Trying to get on Wunderground downstairs. Fingers not working, then can’t read what it says. What does a pink triangle mean? What’s that noise? It’s our heater fan. Shut it off so I can hear! Ran upstairs. Shut it off.
Husband was at the bank. Children were hopefully still at the school (it was dismissal time.) Faster yet went my heart. Why do tornadoes like 3pm??
Sully followed wherever I went. (Even to a quick stop to the john, which is in the room where he gets bathed. Not typical dog behavior. I peed turbo fast.) Opened door to small room of safety. Basement floor. Dashed out.
Flashlight, phone, dog. Pillow to sit on, blanket. Radio? Dashed to family room, stopped.
A charcoal gray column about 200 feet wide was in front of me, just beyond our pond. The rain had stopped, the air just outside the giant windows in front of me was calm. I mouthed, “Oh, dear God. There it is.” Mouth and eyes agape.
“Sully come!” We huddled on the floor of the little room and he licked my face while I sobbed, thankful for redial since I couldn’t see. “I just saw it… I saw the tornado.”
“You saw it?!” My husband was still at the bank, but now outside watching the storm as it had passed. “It’s passed. You’ll be okay. I’m coming home.”
We agreed he should check the school to be sure the kids were still in it, rather than en route. He did. They were.
I called my dad, still huddling, still sobbing. Still wrapping my mind around what I’d seen. Still wondering all the “what if’s.”
The phone kept ringing. We still had power, miraculously. As I emerged from my huddle, I could see no damage.
Three homes and two barns were hit and sustained devastating damage. One couple was still heading to the basement when it hit, peeling off the top of their ranch house like a sardine can.
Sheet metal and insulation everywhere. Cattle killed. The people were all fine.
Just after I saw it, it must have leaped my neighbor’s house (sparing it completely) and then traveled down her wooded driveway, snapping and uprooting mature evergreens as it did. Two of her full-grown trees were found in the field across the road.
After we gratefully received the kids from the 1 hour late bus, we assessed the damage in our tree fields. We could see the path in the matted grass, but it must have lifted (or simply didn’t like eating less-mature evergreens!) as it went over the nursery stock. All of it was fine. Deciduous trees in a few of the fence lines and a giant willow tree in a creek bed were shattered. Our neighbor to the north of the fields lost chunks of roof and had shattered windows and downed trees.
Our bus driver hunts our land. He’d taken the day off to hunt. Chores and other distractions kept him from getting to the field, and then the rain came. He was waiting it out before heading here. Had he been in his tree stand when the tornado came through, he’d have been wrapped in a tangle of metal. We found the stand 200 yards from where it had been anchored. It was mangled.
As I thank God over and over for sparing us and our home and trees, I still can’t help but wonder how the tornadoes choose. It was a question uttered by my youngest the day after the storm. “How do we know the next one won’t miss us?” She internalizes a lot and after she simmers a bit, we’re careful to give her a release valve so she doesn’t explode. She was ready, so a gathered her up the the rocker and let cry and talk about it.
We acknowledged that her fear is logical and real and it’s natural to be scared of something so powerful. All we can do is be aware and prepare as best we can. Only the wind can truly know. Until then, we just go on and continue to be grateful for doing so.
(And any time life blows us away, we can ask our mommies to rock us and hug the tears away.)
A very happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.