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Personal Encounters with Midwestern Tornadoes

Updated on December 31, 2012

The Midnight Buzz

I was awakened out of a sound sleep by the buzz. Anyone who's heard it cannot forget the sound, and anyone who hasn't can't begin to understand. But for those of you who've heard it, it was the buzz.

I stood up and listened. The buzz came closer for a little bit, then passed overhead, then died down. After it died down and went away to the northeast I went back to bed. Tornadoes seldom turn around and come back. I was safe. For now.

In the morning I found two odd things: the lid to the animal feed had been removed and deposited in the middle of the north pasture, and the horse gate had been lifted off its hinges and then dropped. I could tell because the lowest hinge was now on the highest peg, and the highest hinge was on nothing! With much effort I wrestled it back down and placed it where it should be, and the heavy metal bar gate was none the worse.

The Chicken House Incident

Fifteen years old, home alone, thunderstorms all day long. All day. And there was a huge, empty yard to cross to get to the chicken house, an empty yard in which I was the tallest object. The lightning was nonstop and it thundered for hours without letup. Storms came and went one right after the other, and the breaks were too short to have a safe space to get up to reach the chickens.

I had good reason to try and reach them. Overnight the opossums had been killing them by twos and threes. They didn't do it for hunger, either, because they wouldn't eat one chicken before killing another, but would leave a trail of meaningless destruction night after night.

So I waited and watched and hoped and prayed for a break. Finally, about three o'clock in the afternoon, all the thunder suddenly stopped. Not a raindrop was falling. Everything got quiet.

I scurried down to the dog pen to get my trusty border collie, and I should have taken a clue from this: the dog refused to come out of her doghouse. This was unlike her. She was my toughest herding dog and wasn't afraid of anything. I should have listened to her instinct.

I closed gate to the pen and continued without her. The roguish wind knocked me to my knees. Beyond the south pasture I saw a huge, billowing black tower of cloud that reached from sky to earth. It was rotating very, very slowly.

Because it moved so slowly and because I saw an airplane fly right past it, I decided it wasn't a tornado and proceeded to the chicken house, unafraid of the wind.

I struggled from fence post to fence post, barely able to stand but laughing at the turbulence, cooped up the chickens for the night, and returned to the house. The billowy black pillar moved traveled northeast and missed my farm completely, and we had a splendid and peaceful sunset that evening. Only later did I find out what that was: a class F-0. (Fujita scale, light damage, and yes indeed a twister.)

The Drive to Work

"I don't like the color of the sky," said my mom one morning on the way to work. She turned the radio on.

"Slight chance of rain, high of 85..." said the radio.

I learned later that when tornadoes come in at a very low altitude, the radar cannot see them. There were no watches or warnings issued for this occurrence.

First I saw a point come down. Then it came down lower. This cannot be happening, I thought to myself. I didn't distract my mom from driving, and I figured she saw what I saw.

We rounded a bend, and the wind picked up enormously. Without warning the faraway point was now touching a nearby bluff at the side of the highway. Treetops bent till they looked like all the branches were going to break, and large sticks from the highway below were lifted straight up.

The winds became violent and tried to push us off the road onto the shoulder and over the ledge on the other side. My mom put both knees on the wheel to keep a hold on it. Then we stopped moving. She was still stepping on the gas, and the speedometer read 40, but the front wheels of the front-wheel-drive minivan were no longer in contact with the ground. The engine revved uselessly.

And then as suddenly as it had come upon us, it moved away without harm.. We started moving again and continued to work.

The Mule Sale Spin

Someone had just purchased a miniature mule from me. I helped load her into his trailer.

"Well, I'd better get home. There's a storm brewing," he said, and indeed there was.

The sky to the west was a density of black, and the thunder was getting louder. No sooner had he left, no sooner had I set foot in my living room, than the trees 200 feet from my house began to sway, and a large clear whirlwind tore leaves from the trees into an enormous updraft. It left after a few tense seconds, and did little more than stir the landscape.

I could tell about a few more, but you get the idea. These storms are beautiful and dangerous, fascinating and frightening. I've seen the legendary monster close up, and I've lived to tell about it.

Be safe.


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