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The Day the Alarms Went off at Arlington Elementary

Updated on March 26, 2014


SEPTEMBER 18, 2002

I was working in the Health Office Elementary School, in Bloomington In.. It was a beautiful autumn day in September. The weather was warm and mild. We were enjoying a nice Indian Summer!. The leaves on the trees were a beautiful array of orange, red, purple and yellow leaves. Autumn was such a spectacular time of year!

.My day was busy, with sick children, coming in and out of my health office. Everything was normal, except the school's emergency alarms kept going off. Our principal, Linda said "she could not figure out why this was happening. No one was near the alarms, when they went off .This happened twice.

The custodian, David checked the alarms, and everything was fine. These were just false alarms! Strangely enough, even the city of Bloomington had reported they were experiencing alarms going off without any reason. They thought maybe a squirrel was the culprit..

I wondered about this as I drove home. My intuition started kicking in, that something was wrong..something was coming soon.

SEPTEMBER 20, 2002

12:55 P.M. It was a sunny bright day, when I returned to school after having had lunch at McDonald's. The skies were clear as I walked into the building.

I talked to the secretary Carol, briefly and then headed for my desk. I turned on my computer and immediately read, tornado warning. It was a warning for us.

The warning included Ellettsville and Bloomington. I worked in Monroe County. I was stunned. I looked out the window behind me, the skies were still sunny.. I quickly went to the office, and informed Carol of the tornado alert..

I hurried back to the health office. September is usually a quiet month, so it was surprising to hear that we might be getting a tornado.. I called, Debbie at Bloomington South. She was the Director of Nursing. I told her about the tornado warning. She said, "she was concerned because her daughter was in Ellettsville, and she couldn't leave her school to pick her up". She had to stay on her job!

Almost immediately, I noticed the skies had darkened behind me. The winds were blowing hard The alarms sounded, as we gathered the children in the hallways. The children were instructed to place their hands over their heads, as they bent over into a ball. They knew a tornado was coming.. The phones were ringing off the walls, as we scrambled to answer the calls.

Parents were frantically calling in to check on their children.. I told Carol " I think we need to turn the phones off, as the phone lines were now crackling". We joined the children in the hallway. Some of the children were weeping, as we huddled together. We wrapped our arms around them as the storms broke around us.

We were spared. The tornado missed us.

After the storm I called Debbie again. She said, "she was very concerned about her daughter" She knew the tornado had hit Ellettsville, but she didn't have any news at the moment. Ellettsville suffered a lot of tornado damage.

Sometime later, I called Debbie again Debbie. She told me what she had learned .."The children at her daughters school were playing outside. It was still sunny, when a (F-3)swirling large tornado suddenly appeared.. They had no warning.

Immediately the frightened teachers, told the children to run into the school as fast as they could run..They ran for their lives! They made it into the building, just in time before the tornado struck.

The roof of the school was badly damaged. All all the children and the teachers were safe. The teachers are to be commended for their fast thinking. Debbie was so relieved to hear that her daughter was safe and sound.. I admired her for her courage in staying on the job, when I knew she was worried about her daughter.

It was later reported in the news, that several tornado's struck the state. The biggest tornado rampaged through rural and urban parts of Indiana for 112 miles.

It became the 2nd longest tornado track in Indiana's History, after the Monticello tornado of April 3, 1974. The F-3 tornado began in Ellettsville at 12:59 PM. and it roared northeast through Martinsville, Greenwood, the south and east sides of metropolitan Indianapolis, Anderson, and finally near Hartford City, 2 hours and 21 minutes later. Luckily no deaths occurred. Their was $156 million dollars in damage. 45 Schools were impacted and their were 130 injuries. The tornado was encased in rain for much of its life. The same thunderstorm's long tracked tornado also spawned 2 other tornadoes. One was an F-2 rated tornado that struck Poseyville and another F-2 also struck near Monroe County, where we were located.

Not long after, My husband was called out on a storm break, it was his job, to restore electricity to the stricken areas. He told me he saw large steel foundations twisted like pretzels.Later we took a tour of all the damaged areas as we drove to Indianapolis for a Dr.s appointment

We were stunned by the houses and trees that were destroyed all along the path to Ellettsville and Indianapolis. Some houses were spared The tornado would skip one house and hit another. Large blue plastic sheeting had been placed on the sides of missing parts of houses. Some businesses were totally wiped out..

Indiana Tornado Outbreak
Hams Track Tornado and Help In Recovery Efforts

By Dave Crockett, WA9ZCE, Indiana Section PIC

(Indianapolis) - Amateur Radio Skywarn spotters from 14 Central and Southern Indiana counties were given credit for helping save lives during an unusual outbreak of tornados during the morning of Friday, September 20, 2002.

The National Weather Service had been tracking a line of strong thunderstorms, associated with a cold front. The ingredients for a tornado outbreak simply did not exist.

Shortly before 11:00 a.m., the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma issued a Tornado Watch for the Southern half of Indiana. This watch was soon followed by a report of a touchdown in Posey County in Southwest Indiana. Subsequent watches and warnings were issued by the NWS.

The violent turn in weather was caused by the easterly moving cold front mixing with warm moist air. A combination of varying upper level wind speeds, directions, and height, caused the thunderstorms to rotate.

A second touchdown was reported at Monroe City, in Knox County at 11:45 a.m.

The NWS began to receive frequent damage reports. Activation of spotter groups became critical. The NWS requested spotter information be relayed as quickly as possible to the NWS so to could keep counties in the path of the storm could be alerted well in advance. The Central Indiana Skywarn net operation, in Indianapolis, commenced with Indy, NWS station W9NWS as NCS, John, KC9BRX and Garth, KB9TSQ, operators. Skywarn nets in counties within the coverage area of the Indianapolis NWS radar were also launched.

Around 1:00 p.m., an F3 tornado touched down in Ellettsville, in Monroe County. Two Ellettsville hams, Mike, KB9SGN, and Russ, N9DHX, had close encounters with the tornado. According to Monroe County Spotter Dwight, WB9TLH, “The tornado went right past Mike’s house. He was in his driveway, trying to get away in his truck, dodging flying roof parts from his neighbor’s house, while transmitting the warning on the 146.64 repeater in Bloomington.” Russ excitedly reported roofs and other debris flying through the air near his home.

Mike, N9RGI, Net Control, called 911 and requested the county sirens be activated and emergency personnel be dispatched to Ellettsville.
After the storm past Mike’s home, Mike pursued the tornado in his truck and gave continuous updates back through the Bloomington repeater.

Dwight relayed Mike’s tornado sighting and related reports to W9NWS on the Indianapolis 146.97 repeater. His reports immediately got the attention of everyone listening.

Spotters tracked this single, fast moving twister from Ellettsville, Northeast through Martinsville in Morgan County, to Indianapolis, to Northeast of Anderson, in Madison County, on into Delaware County, and Hartford City, in Blackford County, a distance of close to 112 miles. Skywarn spotters forwarded reports of the tornado’s movement to their respective county public safety officials, who, in turn, activated county warning sirens. The broadcast media interrupted regular programming to deliver continuous storm progress reports to the public, largely based on what was heard on the 146.97 weather net.

According to Dave Tucek, NWS Warning Officer, the responsive actions of the spotters helped the NWS increase watch and warning lead times to near 25 minutes or more, saving lives and minimizing injuries. “Amateur Radio played a very important role. Many of the ground truth reports about tornado damage came from Amateur Radio. Some came from law enforcement. Combined, these reports helped us to continue issuing TOR’s for the duration of the storms. The reports helped to confirm in a listener’s mind that the warning is valid, and if they're in the storm's path, they need to take action.”

After the storm passed, many of the individual county spotters groups teamed up with their local Red Cross and Emergency Management agencies to provide communications between shelters and county EOCs, with damage assessment teams, and with National Guard clean up crews. Hams were also dispatched to area hospitals to help track the walking wounded. A Salvation Army’s SATERN communications group was also active. Operations continued through the weekend and into the first days of the following week.

The greatest amount of damage occurred in Ellettsville, Martinsville, Anderson and Indianapolis suburbs of Lawrence, Southport, Beech Grove, and Greenwood. The path of destruction ranged from Poseyville in Posey County to Hartford City, in Blackford County. All total, 36 counties reported damage. In Marion County alone, property damage and loss estimates exceed 50 million dollars.

Two individual storm cells are blamed for producing five tornados, ranging in intensity from the weakest – an F0 on the Fujita scale, with winds up to 72 mph – to an F3, with winds from 158 to 206 mph. The speed of the storm was approximately 50 mph.

Indiana Governor Frank O’Bannon said, after performing an aerial survey of the destruction, “This is the longest path of tornados that I remember hearing about in the State of Indiana.”
- - 30 - -

Special thanks to the following who contributed to this story: Mike Palmer, N9FEB; Mark Shaffer, N9GDR; Dwight Hazen, WB9TLH; John Mills, KC9BRX; Ernest Clark, KB9SKI; and Mike Enyeart, N9RGI, Russ Ryles, N9DHX, and Dave Tucek, KC9CNF, NWS Indianapolis.


APRIL 21, 2011

My personal memories of these Tornadoes of 2002, were triggered, because of the recent deadly tornado outbreaks that have recently devastated, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi,Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Virgina. There have been 2000 miles of destruction and 30 F-4 tornado's, reported just in this month.

The weather channel reported there has been 292 tornadoes. Winds of 200 miles per hour devastated Tuscaloosa Alabama, where the University of Alabama is located. This was a long track tornado through 4 states This is the second deadliest tornado outbreak in 60 years!

Yesterday, as many as 200 people were killed in Alabama! That brings up the death toll to 281. The numbers are still climbing. The devastating damage yesterday, has been compared to Hurricane Catrina!

Mayor Walt Maddox told ABC, hundreds of businesses and homes have been destroyed in Tuscaloosa. We need men, materials and equipment. Our system is overwhelmed.

This was the hardest hit area. Horrific tornado damage has occurred. Some communities are totally gone. 1000's of survivors are desperately in need of help.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the people that have been devastated by these tornadoes.


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