Tuesday, May 13, 2014


I have a few strange interests, well, maybe more than a few, but storms are one of them. It's the big, bad thunderstorms that I like. The ones that turn the sky black with howling winds, rain and hail. Really, it's the prospect of a tornado that gets my gears turning. When I hear the siren, it's like a triple shot macchiato injected straight into my heart. At the start of a storm, I will be the one standing in the yard staring up at the sky. I've been this way since I was a kid. I don't know any defining moment that caused this, but there was a close call when I was about 3 that should probably be mentioned.

My mom had left me and my brother in the car to run into a grocery store. It was mid-afternoon, and within moments after she had disappeared through the doors, a storm approached. I can remember it in snippets, but my brother had better recollection (he was older than me). What I do remember is the strange noise the storm made, and the wind. I turned backward in my seat and watched a garbage can fly across the parking lot and heard distant screams from wayward shoppers unloading groceries. The winds quickly got worse, and garbage cans turned into stop signs and power lines snapping. I don't think I cried, I remember feeling like I was watching a movie.

After the whole thing was over, which wasn't but a few minutes at the most, I remember wanting my mom real bad. My brother wouldn't let me out of the car, and when mom finally made it back to us, she told us they had locked everyone in and wouldn't let them leave because there had been a tornado. The tornado had went right by us and left considerable damage behind. A drive in theatre down the same stretch of road we had been on had been hit pretty hard, destroying the wooden screen tower. As an interesting side note, very close to this structure sits the famed Nascar track in Bristol. I don't believe it was hit.

 Twin City Drive-In October 1, 1977

Around this area you could actually see the path the tornado had taken across the mountain. I remember that vividly. So please don't let anyone tell you that a tornado can't cross a mountain, or that living in them protects you. In fact, in the Super Outbreak of 1974, tornadoes were known to cross bodies of water and continue back on to land, and even go across ravines and continue. This particular tornado was on the ground for a bit, lifted, and came back down to do more damage.

One of my cousins' homes had been hit (no injuries, thank goodness) and we all took a long car ride the next day to survey the damage.

My dad liked to make pictures, and he made a lot that day. After all of these years, my parents' divorce, and many moves, unfortunately the pictures are gone. I looked back at them periodically, and remember the sheets of metal twisted into the barren trees, the lonesome tractor turned into a 'U', its back end facing the front, and my cousins' pool that had been lifted and thrown 300 yards out. This tornado ranked as an F1 on the Fujita scale, and there were 10 injuries reported, no fatalities.

So I guess maybe this experience had something to do with my fascination.

Years later a microburst picked up our small building at the bottom of our backyard and blew it apart as if it had been stuffed with dynamite. I watched that one from the safety of the picture window, eyes wide, tongue lolling, panting, I'm sure. For a kid who was nervous around loud noises, odd enough, I didn't mind the lightning and thunder.

Growing up in northeast Tennessee, you won't see many tornadoes, so any time there is a chance, most people take it seriously.

In April of 2011, we saw a few serious storms again. I live a few miles away from where I grew up, and on the afternoon of the 9th, a tornado touched down at our Veterans' Administration campus nearby. It tore through the scenic cemetery and continued across the campus ripping trees from the ground and stripping others until all that was left were large, pointed toothpicks in the ground. Several buildings suffered damage, and a roof had been peeled back on a local business. We had only recently acquired a warning system at the nearby university. When the alarm went off, a lot of people didn't know at first what to make of its eerie opening tones and the voice warning them that a tornado was on the ground. It was a fast process and the last announcement declared that all was safe.

I did get some startling pictures and ominous videos of the sky before it hit. The sky was so calm and quiet before the storm. The clouds were amazing.The video doesn't do it much justice.

 This was the first siren call. (That's my southern drawl there, y'all.)

There's another pretty good video of the siren going off, informing everyone to get in their basements and stay away from their doors. I didn't post it because I am quite freaking out at that point, along with some dear family members who sound like straight up panicked hillbillies. Ahem.

As we were hearing the siren announcement, the tornado was hitting about a half mile away, in the direction I am pointing the camera. Here's some of the aftermath at the VA campus:

This was another F1.

A little later that year, in August, I caught this beauty on accident as I was out running errands. 

 I know now this scary looking UFO wannabe was a supercell silently gliding over my head.

I got in my car right after taking the above video, and I drove around to the back of the shopping center that you can see, and surprise SURPRISE...

Here she was, about 100 feet from my hood. I didn't bother to cut my engine off (you can hear NIN singing on The Crow soundtrack in the background), I just jumped out and took this video, probably while holding my breath.

I followed it and watched it dissapate as it crossed the road.

Here's the tail end of the supercell with the storm following like skeletal fingers poking at the asphalt.

This has been the longest blog post I've ever written, but it also contains the most pictures or videos, too, so there's that.

We haven't had as active a storm season as 2011, but I keep hoping every time I see a lightning bolt in the forecast on my phone's weather app. That season inspired me to get trained through NOAA as an official storm spotter (yeah, I got a card ;).

Have you been through a tornado or watched one from afar? Please feel free to share any stories you might have in the comments.