*For those of you who have already read the first part of this post and are waiting for the ending, I’ve added it at the bottom where it says Update Added 27 October 2015.
IT HAPPENED YESTERDAY MORNING, about twenty minutes after my husband left with his daughter to take her to work. I was brewing a cup of herbal tea — decaf, because my anxiety becomes unbearable on caffeine — when I heard the chilling sound of the emergency siren.
Although our small town has weathered many storms since my husband and I moved here, I have never heard any warning sirens, with the exception of three brief test blasts a few months ago and another brief test just the night before. There were no working sirens when our village was pummeled with fist-sized hail from a massive supercell in 2012.
“They must be doing another test on the new siren,” I thought, as I bent down to pet our little poodle, Scrappy, who was worried by the sound.
But the screaming siren did not stop…
I opened the blinds and looked out the front window. The sky was almost black, even though it was after ten in the morning.
….and still the siren did not stop.
I picked the poodle up off the floor and ran with him in my arms to the kitchen, where I had pinned the weather emergency notice that came in the mail earlier this year. The letter explained that our town had recently acquired a new emergency siren, which was tied into the National Weather Service for severe weather warnings.
I ran my finger down the list:
1. Storm — 5 seconds on, 10 seconds off, lasting for one minute (No, it’s not a storm warning; the siren has been going steady for at least one full minute.)
2. Tornado Watch — 10 seconds on, 4 seconds off, lasting for two minutes (It’s not that, either, there haven’t been any pauses in the siren.)
3. Tornado Warning — 3 minutes steady (The siren is still going. Has it been three minutes yet? I didn’t think to look at a clock when it first started…)
4. Test — 15 seconds
OH DEAR LORD, THIS IS AN ACTUAL TORNADO WARNING!
OK… this isn’t a test, this is a real tornado warning. That means a tornado has been sighted and confirmed somewhere close by. It also means the tornado is probably heading this way. And it means I need to DO something! But…. WHAT DO I DO?
I run back into the living room and look through the blinds again. The sky is still a solid wall of almost-black. No sign of a twister, and no strange cloud formations. Just… darkness.
Before doing anything else I call my stepdaughter, who has just arrived at her job twenty miles away, to let her and my husband know about the warning so they can be on the lookout for tornadoes. Then I send a quick text to our minister’s wife, telling her about the siren and asking for prayer. She lives in another town, hopefully not in the path of this storm.
Meanwhile, I am looking out the side windows of the house, and still I see nothing in the sky but a wall of darkness.
I glance down at my pink pajamas. “I need to get dressed,” I think.
As I’m heading to the bedroom for my clothes, I remember my stepdaughter’s three Chihuahuas. My husband’s daughter is living with her pets in the travel trailer we keep in our back yard, while she saves money to buy a house of her own. Trailers are notoriously unsafe in tornadoes. Our seventy-year-old Craftsman style house, on the other hand, is very solid and strong.
Telling the poodle to STAY and that I will be right back, I rush through the kitchen and out the back door.
The sky was a seamless veil of almost-black behind the house, too. But what struck me as most peculiar was how utterly still and quiet it was. The siren had just stopped — I guess the three minutes are up — and in the ringing stillness there wasn’t a hint of a breeze, no sign of lightning off in the distance, no sound at all. Even the birds that normally chatter and sing from the branches of our ancient Japanese Elm were eerily silent.
I dash under the towering old tree and fling open the trailer door, scooping up a Chihuahua in each arm. “Forever, COME!” I shout to the third one, knowing she can be trusted to follow close on my heels, so long as I am carrying her old Chihuahua mama and her frisky Chihuahua son.
“The silence!” I’m thinking as I scurry back across the yard. “I’ve never heard it so quiet!”
Suddenly I am aware of an odd kind of negative pressure in the air. I still haven’t heard any sounds nor seen even a hint of an approaching storm. But now I feel as though all of the oxygen has been sucked up and away from me. The atmosphere feels light, like helium, as though I’m walking on the surface of a planet with very little gravity.
I get the Chihuahuas settled into a dog bed in the kitchen, with my Scrappy poodle separated from them by a child gate we keep in the doorway. Poor Scrappy gets overwhelmed when the three little dogs swarm all over him.
Now I can get dressed, I think. If the roof blows off the house — or worse — I don’t want to get caught in my pajamas. Lacking a basement or a cellar, the nearest storm shelter is more than a quarter of a mile away. I consider, for a moment, whether I should make a run for the shelter. Somehow I know I won’t make it there in time, even if I go in my pjs.
I step into my jeans, fumble with the zipper and belt, then pull my funky cat shirt on over my head. If I’m going to die today, I want to die in my crazy cat shirt. Although it is way too big on me, I bought it because it reminds me of my favorite cat-print dress that I had when I was a little girl. Wearing it always lifts my spirits.
OK, now I’m dressed. What next? My wallet, I remember, as I get it out of my purse and stuff it in my back pocket. Might be a good idea to have my ID on me.
What else should I grab before the house maybe blows away?
My precious cousin Lainie comes to mind. Dear Lainie, who drowned a little over four years ago at the age of only thirty-eight, the morning after our last long talk on the phone. Thinking of her, I scurry to the bathroom, open my jewelry box, and pull out the cross that our grandfather had carved out of Mother of Pearl when he was stationed on an island in the Pacific during World War II. He made three identical crosses, one for his mother, one for his wife, who was working in an airplane factory building bombers for the war, and one cross he kept for himself. After my grandparents died, my aunt kept one of the crosses, gave another cross to her daughter Lainie, and I was given the third cross.
I put my grandfather’s cross in my other back pocket, along with a little metal tag that has a poem engraved on it, the same poem my cousin used as her signature on every email she ever sent me. “Dance as though no one is watching, love as though you’ve never been hurt…” That small metal tag, similar to a dog tag but engraved with my cousin’s favorite poem, blew into our yard and landed right next to the front step during a fierce New Mexico dust storm that hit our area exactly two years and two days after my cousin’s tragic death. Somehow, I think she caused it to happen.
The minister’s wife sends me a text that says, Praying! Then she sends another, asking if I am alright. I reply that the sky is nearly black, the air ominously still.
I press SEND. And then the storm hit….
To Be Continued. I need to take a lot of deep breaths and maybe go for a long walk before I can finish this story. I am OK. Our home is (mostly) OK. But my PTSD is definitely not OK!
*Update Added 27 October 2015:
Nearly a week has gone by since my tornado experience. I’ve tried to finish this story, but I seem to be stuck. Part of the reason is because, with all the horrific hurricanes and devastating earthquakes that have been happening around the world this past week, our little tornado is laughably minor in comparison. I feel silly, now, for making a big deal out a lot of wind, some hail, lightning and thunder, and a deluge of rain! I was terrified, but thankfully nothing really bad happened.
To sum up my tornado story: when the storm hit, it sounded as though the bottom had fallen out of a lake directly over our house. Rain cascaded down, hail pounded, lightning flashed, thunder roared, and the screaming wind howled. The raging storm, coming so suddenly out of an eerie dead silence, was truly terrifying!
I huddled on the floor with the dogs in my lap, clinging to them as they clung to me, praying that we would be all right, that our town would be all right, and that our house and all of the houses around us would not be blown away.
When the pounding rain and hail and wind were mostly over, I went outside and saw white hail covering the ground as far as I could see. I checked around our property and discovered that the fiberglass top of my husband’s golf cart was shattered to pieces, our car was dimpled all over from the hail, and the roof of the RV trailer, where my stepdaughter is staying, and the roof of our house, were both leaking rain water in several places. I have since patched the RV roof, but our house is waiting for a roofer, as my husband can’t physically climb up there and he insists that I must not climb up there, either, although I am sure I could.**
My husband and I had to sleep in the living room the night of the tornado, because the bed was soaking wet from all the rain that was still falling through the ceiling. We had rain coming down in the dining room, also. But… our house is still standing, all of the buildings in town are still standing, and no one was hurt.
For surviving this latest storm with so little damage, I am very grateful!
**Correction: with rain in the forecast for tomorrow and no way to get a roofer out in time, I climbed up on the roof today — October 28 — and patched what I could. That roof is steeper than it looks! Sadly, all of the shingles are pockmarked with quarter to half dollar sized dents from hail damage. We need a new roof.
2 December 2015 Update:
Two days ago the body shop finally got the parts in that were needed to repair our hail damaged car. Today we got a call informing us that the damage is more extensive than the adjuster had estimated, so our insurance company is going to total the car rather than have it repaired.
Meanwhile, we are trying to find a roofer who can replace our roof before the weather gets bad again. We had an ice storm last week and when the ice melted, it was apparent that my amateur patch job wasn’t going to keep us dry through the winter.
The good news is that the pay-off for our totaled car will help us cover the cost of a new roof. We can get by with just one vehicle for awhile. (Our home insurance gave us a check to pay for a new roof back in 2012 when we had the softball sized hail, but we used the money to buy a car for one of our adult children who was going through a very rough time.)
Lesson learned: when your insurance company sends someone to inspect your house after a bad hail storm and the guy says that you need a new roof, even though you can’t see any visible damage and your roof hasn’t leaked yet, believe the expert and use the insurance money to put on a new roof! Cars are important and helping out a struggling loved one is also important. But not having your house fall down around your ears is even more important!
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