We expected thunderstorms. They came up from the south developing stronger as they traveled. It wasn’t one storm, but a family of thunderstorm cells in a long caravan that crossed several states. Forecasters didn’t think tornadoes would hit until Friday’s storms, but they were wrong.
Anticipating hail, the car sat safely inside the garage. Kirk called from work to tell me he was on his way home, but the storms were moving fast. He called again a few minutes later, he was going to stay until the storms passed. The threat of tornadoes became a reality.
A strange cloud falls upon the house in this sort of weather. May be locals do this better, but all of the sudden, I feel sort of paralyzed. Not with fear, but with waiting for this ugly unstoppable possibility. Everything stops, then redirects into different sorts of activites. The dinner I had planned ceased to exist. We put together our emergency tornado bags. Mine consists of my purse with my camera and two separable hard drives tucked safely inside. I sat it on the washing machine, the last thing we’ll walk by on the way to our shelter.
Then we wait. Bags packed, Aria and Luci tend to stay downstairs. We talk, watch TV, putter around. I asked them to eat something quick and available. I’m not going to cook when a tornado siren could interrupt it all and leave food partially raw lying about my kitchen. If anything, I want to clean. I tidied up as much as I could knowing a storm could knock out power and water for days.
Kirk called again. The storm slowed. He was on his way home.
A slow storm isn’t a good thing. When they’re fast, they push and bluster through, then quickly peter-out. When they’re slow, they grow, gathering strength and force as they build. A slow storm causes more damage.
The sirens went off just before 5:30. A call for action rather than a warning, the siren comes with its own list of instructions in our home. There’s no time for thinking or fear. We just move.
Elise goes first and opens the tornado shelter inside the garage.
Luci follows second.
Arianna grabs the cat and gets in next.
I call the dog who follows me as far as the shelter, then freezes. I lift her in carefully balancing on the wobbly metal stairs and easing her down.
Kirk follows with his bag (we’ve all grabbed our own bags on the way) and closes the sliding metal door above our heads and latches it.
It’s small and cozy. Made of metal, the walls sweat over time becoming beaded with cold except where my back’s made contact. We alternate on the benches, two on one side and three on the other. The dog settles down on the floor in the middle and we put our legs across. There’s no room for anything more. The radio’s on. We watch our phones and wait occasionally trying to half stand to stretch out backs. Over time, the metal benches cause our legs and buttocks to fall asleep. Elise chatters endlessly. The rest of us listen intently to the radio mentally tracking this beast as it makes its way towards our home.
It’s nearly completely dark inside except for the light from our phones and flashlights if we need them, but we try to preserve power, just in case. We leave the garage light on. It can be seen through the narrow cracks along the top, so if we lose power, we’ll know.
Inside a shelter, it’s isolated. We listen to the radio. We hear the howling of the wind that sounds eerily like a fast moving train in the distance. We hear what must be hail battering at our roof and garage door. The radio tells us that the tornado’s just passed I35 at Tecumseh. Then it’s on Indian Hills Road just two blocks from our house. I’m listening to sounds wondering if it’s even closer now.
But we can’t know what’s going on from inside. We hear words like “raggedy,” as these weather men get giddy with excitement over this powerful storm spitting out tornadoes from it’s ragged underbelly. There were more than 12 that night. As it darkened, we heard “wrapped in rain,” a foreboding image of a tornado enrobed in rain so heavy that no one can see it. It hides while wreaking havoc.
When Kirk thought it was safe, he opened the shelter door. We heard voices outside, climbed out, then opened the garage to see what damage, if any, was done. Rivers of water flowed through our yard, a lake sat in one corner. Only one fence fell down. We were lucky.
Time continues oddly in limbo after tornado. It’s still difficult to act normally. We’d watch TV, but the internet is out. We sat on the couch together and read and waited.
There would be two more sirens sending us back to the shelter and more sirens while we were inside those three different times. In all, we spent 2 hours in our shelter that night, an hour at first, then 30 minutes each the two other times. Each time we got out, thankful, but hesitant. Waiting until it was really over.
By the time we went to sleep, the storms had passed on, but no one sleeps perfectly soundly after that and as of this forecast, Friday and Saturday’s storms are supposed to be worse.