Thursday, April 10, 2008

Close Call with a Tornado

Last Friday, at around noon, I had just finished applying another coat of epoxy to the interior of the Backwoods Drifter I have almost finished building in the garage shop in Jackson. I was about to start back to work on the crossbeams for Element II, which need fairing in preparation for fiberglassing when my girlfriend, Michelle, told me we were under a tornado warning.

The sky was dark, but there was no rain yet, just a thick, warm humidity hanging in the air. Warning sirens begin to sound and I started to close the garage door in case rain should blow in on my fresh epoxy, but when I tried, the power suddenly went off. I stood in the open garage door looking out, and out of nowhere a tremendous wind began gusting and I began to hear the sound of snapping trees. I saw branches flying horizontally through the air and heard thuds of small objects hitting the roof and sides of the house. I ran inside and found Michelle and her daughter, Jasmine, huddled on the floor in the hall. The sound of breaking trees was intense, as the house is in an old neighborhood with many tall pines, oaks and other hardwoods. I went back to the garage to try to get the door down manually and just as I looked out heard another loud breaking sound and watched as the entire service line on the street in front of the house went down. This is the view from the garage:

I knew the storm was over when the wind subsided after maybe ten minutes and the warm humid air was replaced by a sudden cool. Checking around, I found that the house did not get hit by any trees, but we had a near miss with this one in the backyard that thankfully missed the kitchen by a few feet and only took out part of the fence.

Trees like these were down all over the neighborhood, many on top of or through the framing of houses. Later that day, as we got out beyond our immediate area, we were to find out that the damage was widespread in the city and surrounding area, and more than 700 homes were damaged, including 50 that were completely demolished. 90,000 people were without power, as utility poles everywhere were trashed as bad as ours.

I found out later that is was a near miss indeed. The National Weather Service determined that the storm front that passed through the area generated five tornadoes. The one that did all this damage was an F2 tornado that passed just a few blocks north of us, and stayed above the ground, cutting a 900-yard wide path of destruction. If it had been on the ground, the results would have been much worse. As it turned out, no one was killed by this tornado, but a lot of people suffered property damage. The power was just restored yesterday, and phone service will not be back until tomorrow. When I get back to the work in the garage later today, the first thing I have to do is clean out all the debris that was blown in the open door and sand the stuck leaves out of my cured epoxy.

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