Growing up, one of my dream jobs was to be a storm chaser. Some of my favorite movies were “Twister,” “Tornado!” and “Night of the Twisters.”
I used to feel excited when a storm was coming through our area. Clearly with no sense of self preservation, I would even get excited if I heard the tornado sirens sounding off. I would stay glued to our television, watching as the local weather man reported live updates.
Hunkering down in the hallway with my family with a mattress over our heads never phased me. Totally fearless, I had dreams of someday seeing a tornado with my own eyes.
Today, my dream is to never see a tornado. Even hearing the words “tornado watch” frightens me.
My excitement for storms turned into fear exactly six years ago.
The afternoon of April 28, 2014, we received a terrifying call from my in-laws. My husband’s sister could not be reached. Their city, Louisville, was hit by an EF4 tornado and their neighborhood had been in its direct path.
When my mother and father-in-law made it there, it was a scene they could never have imagined.
The neighborhood that was once surrounded by hundreds of lush, green pine trees looked like a barren wasteland. Every single tree was gone. Not knocked over, just completely gone. Even the blades of grass from the lawns had been ripped away.
But what was worse, the few homes that remained were reduced to rubble.
My sister-in-law’s home only had a few walls left standing. Thankfully, it turned out her family had been invited to sit in their next door neighbor’s basement, where they were safe and unharmed.
I was talking to her about the storm this morning and she said she had actually taken that day off from work to spend with her son and clean their house.
“I cleaned the floors so good that day,” she said with a laugh. It’s easier to laugh at certain aspects of that storm now.
Most of their valuables were gone, but the cake platter I had given them several years ago was in pristine condition. I like to think even the tornado knew it was too beautiful to destroy.
Of course, none of the material items or the floors she cleaned mattered at that point. We were all just grateful and thanking God their lives had been spared.
Ten people died in Winston County that day, many nearby where they lived. The tornado produced winds up to 185 miles per hour and left a scar 36 miles long and up to 0.8 miles wide. There are videos of it on YouTube.
I have been trying to figure out why storms never scared me all those years and I think I’ve figured it out.
All my life, I’ve heard people say, “Tornados always jump over Greenville,” alluding it's due to the nearby Mississippi River.
We know that simply isn’t true. Ask the folks who live along Lake Ferguson Road, whose homes were severely damaged in January when a tornado crossed the river and slammed into their homes.
My sister-in-law said they weren’t taking the storm in 2014 seriously either because tornadoes had always “gone around” them before. It didn’t that day.
In a moment of what I believe to be God’s planning, she just happened to step outside to take a look at the sky when her neighbors were getting into their basement and asked if they wanted to join them.
They contemplated. They knew exactly which closet they were going to sit in to ride out the storm.
That closet was nonexistent after they crawled through the debris piled in front of the basement door and saw what remained of their home.
Most people are lucky to never experience a tornado like they did. The fewer who do, the better.
We must take weather warnings seriously. If you haven’t, sign up for free text alerts through the Washington County of Emergency Management by texting your zip code to 888777. They do a phenomenal job of texting alerts for any severe weather event.
You may have gone your entire life without experiencing a severe weather disaster, but as my sister-in-law would tell you, even one time is too many.
Catherine Kirk is managing editor of the Delta Democrat-Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.