A Kentucky Storm Story: Bad Tornado Outbreak 2012
March, 3 2012
The air was warm and muggy when I stepped out to let out my dog, Jasper, in the fenced in front yard. Who was always more than happy to go to the bathroom and explore the new weather situation. I swore to myself at how warm it was, almost hot and I was excited at how the wait for wearing flip flops was finally over. I went back inside to change into a tank top and pull on my flip flops to go do laundry at a friend’s house. I yelled at my boyfriend to not bother bringing a sweat shirt from across the house, because the only thing it would do would make him sweat. Little did I know that the warm air was going to make perfect weather for viscous storm cells, because of the cold air that we could not feel clashing above.
On the way to our local gas station nothing really seemed out of the ordinary, but the feeling of the wind blowing through my hair as we got out of the car as though even the leafs were running away, made me and my boyfriend Steve look up at the dark back lit gray clouds moving above us. Beautiful as it was, we could tell a huge storm was about to hit even with the warm weather and the cheeriness it seemed to bring with it. We grabbed our fountain sodas filled with mountain dew, and Steve grabbed a packed of Marlboro Blacks. I told the gas station clerk to be safe as he looked obliviously to the weather outside and we set off for our friend’s house with two bags full of laundry. Not knowing how much chaos the day would bring or really knowing how much devastation this line of storms had already brought to our lower southern states. Besides it had been just two days ago that a town that was 30 minutes away had been hit by a string of tornadoes and had killed three people, how could any other bad weather happen so soon? At least that's what I was thinking...
It was 12:35 p.m. and still sunny by the time we arrived at our friend’s house, which is about only 5 miles away from where we lived in Owensboro. We pulled up in Steve's black Monte Carlo in front of the porch and behind their beat up white truck, and waded in through the gate with our clothes and drinks. We went into the house and was welcomed and warned that there was a "huge motherf**kin storm headed our way" as he showed us on his computer through radar maps.
Stormy, who is a double pawed and silver sleek feline had gotten out for a week and cut her poor little foot badly. So it was entrusted to me since I had the most medical and animal experience to play “the vet”. We took her outside on the porch and I felt badly as Steve pinned her down and I disinfected and bandaged her foot, so that she had a tiny kitty cast. Cute, I thought. She was so crazy in the time the it took to bandage her, that I had no doubt that her spirit would let her get any worse. Still the wind was picking up, and I started to wonder about Jasper and how leaving him outside might have not been the greatest idea, though I really didn’t know half an hour ago that the storm of a decade would be coming through later on. So Steve went home to get more gauze for Stormy the feisty cat and put Jasper in his crate when he got to the house for safe keeping, much to Jasper's despair.
I went in and talked with our friends wife, and watched there two kids get home schooled by their roommate and family friend, who I learned loved storms too. Most people look at me like I'm crazy when I tell them that I want to be a storm chaser and photograph tornadoes but he actually thought it was a badass idea as we talked and walked our way outside onto the porch and searched the ever growing dark sky.
The news the I had read and watched on the computer before had said to expect the force of the storms around 8 p.m. so me and our friends wife didn't think it would be to dangerous to go out to Kroger and pick up some chicken breasts to cook for dinner. As we pulled out onto the Parrish Ave. it started to splat little drops of water on the windshield, and I suddenly heard a distant high pitched noise in the background.
The tornado sirens we're going off, and it wasn't the sirens that we test every Friday at noon. I was wondering at first if it was just an ambulance, but then the sirens right beside us started going off and my heart raced at the reality that I was in a moving car when a tornado could be close. I texted to Steve "OOoo tornado sirens :)" and I thought that it was a good possibility that I would be the only one that would text that, crazy as I am. Our friend’s wife, who was driving and nervous thought that I should drive on the way back since she doesn’t do well during storms.
About a minute before we got to Kroger the tornado sirens had stopped but the wind was whipping through the air. We parked and slowly got out, but soon saw tons of people rushing out of the store. As we got closer a woman who was running to her car yelled at us that Kroger was locking their doors and closing because the tornado sirens had gone off. They were kicking everyone out that didn’t work there. Now forgive me but in a extreme situation aren't you supposed to save people from weather, not condemn them to possibly die in their cars by a tornado? I can understand locking the doors, but kicking people out into a really dangerous storm is beyond me.
I felt like I was in “Twister” the messed up version, people started driving like crazy people to get out of the parking lot and speed towards safety. I got the keys to the truck and hopped in the car heart thumping, my adjustment skills at the time were now not only to navigate though the storm traffic but to also learn how to operate this very old truck I was driving, with very bad power steering, touchy brakes and frayed seat belts. After almost getting into two accidents later, we made in to the house, without the chicken and a few heart palpitations. As we stepped into the mud below it started to rain heavy drops that could not be ignored, and we rushed inside thinking that it must finally be starting.
Refer to map above with this map to see where I was in the storm.
At 1:30 we had three different tornado warnings and a wind advisory for speeds up to 70 mph. Of course to me this was just fun as we stood out on the porch and watched, sitting on the couch that they have that leans against the house. Stormy laid down on the back of the couch and looked like she was trying to see what might be possible tornados or funnel clouds with us. And since we couldn't see anything at the moment just a slightly green tinge, we started to play the old game of what the clouds looked like. The tornado sirens started up again, and we were so amped at this point that we spread out on either side of the house to watch the storm that had been coming in from behind the house. The sirens dimmed again and the clouds sped over us, we could see the ugliness start to come our way. Their roommate yelled at us that it was moving in really fast and that it was all coming in the same direction like I could see, so we came back on the porch to compare notes.
All of a sudden there was a ROAR, and the house that I had just found out was a trailer was pelted by hail as big as your palm. We all jumped as the hail hit the trailer sideways and the tornado sirens picked up again, sure that this time it was pretty damn sure it was for real. I was even more freaked at knowing that it wasn’t a house, but a trailer I was in now. We all swore at being jumped out of our skins and scurried inside and slammed the door.
My boyfriend and his friend has been inside at the time so they looked outside through the glass door and yelled at the kids to get in the bathroom. It was then that I realized that we had left Stormy outside sitting on the couch, I ran back outside onto the porch with the deafening sound of the hail and the sirens in my ears. I saw that she was no longer on the couch were we left her so suddenly. Instantly terrified that the hurt cat would be carried off by the wind, I searched under the couch as my boyfriend and his friend came out with me. They looked quickly with me and then Steve pulled me into the the house as the sky above us cracked open and fell out with great force. I decided that she had probably gone under the porch, so she was safe for now, perhaps even safer than us.
Forty-Five minutes later and you wouldn’t even know that there was a tornado just down the street from where we were. Sunny and calm is the eeriest thing you can see sometimes. Stormy turned up later on and is fine, her foot has healed and our laundry got done that day. So everything worked out in our city, the tornado in Owensboro was very small and didn’t do much more than knock signs, small trees and power lines down.
Unfortunatly my phones battery was almost gone and I couldnt record or take photos otherwise I definetly would have. The hail that was reported in my area was about 3 inches across in size, pretty substantial.
The storms produced four tornados in Kentucky killing nineteen people, and covered twelve states. Fourteen people were killed in Indiana, three in Ohio, one in Georgia and one in Alabama. Many more were injured and left homeless. Meteorologists of the National Weather Service are saying the four tornados to hit Kentucky were the worst in the region in twenty-four years. Three of them had wind speeds up to 160 mph, and Henryville, IN got the worst of it seeing as how it had wind speeds of 175 mph, and had the staying power for more than 50 miles. If you want to donate or volunteer, contact the redcross to see what opprotunities there are to help.
The joys of living in Tornado Alley bring thrills to storm chasers and adrenalin junkies, but at the same time Mother Nature is not to be toyed with you will get hurt if you don’t know what you’re doing. The best thing you can do is certify yourself as a tornado spotter to help keep your community safe from possible tornados and hunker down in your basement with some friends and a flashlight.