I continued to watch the Doppler radar on my computer Tuesday evening. It is a habit I picked up since moving to Sumner County, Tennessee a few years ago. This time, I watched with more than the usual alarm, as yellow and red areas blanketed the screen. It was unlike anything I had ever witnessed before. Typically, a yellow streak appears here or there, which means a thunderstorm is present. Usually, it will fade off to the left of the screen and away from Sumner.
However, this storm was very different. The entire screen illuminated in bright red and yellow as though I had created some type of disturbed screen saver on my computer. I knew immediately, there was no escape from this storm. And, it was enormous.
I ran to the television and turned on the weather station. The weatherman appeared extremely agitated, portraying barely concealed panic. His voice cracked, as he waved his hands over the map beseeching everyone who could hear his voice to take immediate cover. Yes, it was different this time. I brought out the suitcases and my wife Donni-Jay and I hurriedly packed, dashing about everywhere, almost running into each other in the process. Thoughts raced through my head about what could be done to save our lives. One tries to fight it, but fear still sets in.
I thought we could make it back to the company where I work, just a few miles down the road, and wait out the storm in their shelter. But, before I could collect my thoughts, the television blared a tornado alarm. That meant a tornado was on the ground! Outside, the wind began to pick up speed, and the whole house rumbled. Lightning began to illuminate the black sky. The weatherman continued to scream, and suddenly said, "A tornado has touched down in Nashville!" I looked at the Doppler and saw a particularly large red area right over the city. The red area blanketed the entire city.
It is with mixed feelings that one looks at these types of disasters as they unfold. On the one hand, terror grips your gut while you anticipate the monster as it gets ready to devastate your world. There is no defense; no-one to fight, nothing you can do. It is the most helpless feeling imaginable. On the other hand, you are somewhat relieved that it has struck somewhere else, instead of you and your loved ones. I continued to listen to the television and watch the Doppler and hoped that it would lose steam over Nashville.
Whenever I have witnessed one of these red blobs in the past, it typically stalls over an area momentarily, turns and then dissipates off the map. But this one was different. The blob kept on coming straight for Sumner County and quickly. That just did not seem possible. How could something move that fast? It had to be traveling in excess of 60 miles per hour. I knew in those terms that it could be on top of us in less than 20 minutes.
With renewed urgency and almost complete loss of co-ordination through subdued panic, Donni-Jay and I packed clothing, our computers, some valuables and camped in the vestibule that leads out to the back deck. Donni-Jay maintained a vigil there while I went to the front door to look out. We kept in contact via our walkie-talkie telephones and watched the sky. We were both silently remembering the last tornado in 2006 which devastated the areas just a few miles from us. I knew from experience, that tornadoes always move northeast.
The sky was black, but on the horizon, a huge flash of lightening started to track across the north east sky. Above, I could see a huge black cloud, which I later learned was the killer tornado. It was moving very quickly, and spat huge lighting bolts from its gaping jaws. It appeared to be about 20 miles away, and although evening and pitch black, it was still visible. A huge and horrible sight, made more eerie by the backdrop of the night time sky.
Within minutes, a loud crack was heard, and then the explosion of cannons. Simultaneously, the entire eastern skyline lit up as though the sun was about to break the morning twilight. The monster had hit something big, and it must have been a direct hit. Armageddon was upon us or so it seemed. I ran back to Donni-Jay, and we held each other. An eerie silence ensued, so we walked outside into a complete calmness and the heat of a summer day. On one side of us, the sky continued to burn a bright orange, which we knew to be a gas plant 25 miles away in Hartsville. The peace was broken by fire-trucks as they raced by us with their sirens blasting.
As quickly as the killer had approached, it had moved on to complete its mission of destruction in Castillian Springs and then Trousdale County. Dozens were about to lose their lives.
In the aftermath, we learned that several tornadoes cut a 200-mile swatch across several states. People I work with lost their homes, and one former co-worker lost his life when he traveled outdoors to search for his wife and daughter. As it turned out, they had hidden inside a closet, but unfortunately that was unknown to him at the time. The devastation was unfathomable. Bodies continue to be pulled from the rubble on a daily basis. Today, (Feb 8th) a priest and his entire family were killed in a freak vehicle accident while they returned home from their volunteer work.The devastation continues for a long time whenever a monster tornado hits.
One can never become immune or accustomed to these types of disasters. We experienced one before, just a couple of years ago when our city took a direct hit by an F4 tornado. But even the devastation of that monster could not compare to this one. In weather circles, it is referred to as the perfect storm. An unusual set of circumstances that occur once every 100 years and spawn monster storms.
But, there is nothing perfect about these killers. And, one thing is certain. To witness hell on earth is an experience from which one can never fully recover.
By Rocky De-Ville.