Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Good Friday Tornado

Last Friday evening, I met my friend Debbie for dinner. We met through Girl Scouts when we were kids, and have been friends ever since. Her little niece--almost 3 years old--was with her. We had just been seated on the patio when tornado sirens began to wail. My friend and I were working hard to ignore the warnings, along with all the other diners. Only our little friend mentioned the elephant in the room: "It's noisy!" she told the waitress. We didn't want to interrupt our outing; it isn't often I get to spend an evening with such a charmer.

When I got home, I turned on the TV and realized how irresponsible we had been. Local weather news had preempted all other programming for hours, and I switched it on just as Mike Roberts pointed to the radar map, right where my sister and brother-in-law live, and announced, "This is a debris cloud."

It's estimated that 5 tornadoes hit the St. Louis area, ranging up to F4. It it a miracle that no one was killed? Or is it because of the hard work of meteorologists, the saturation coverage of weather, and the county's emergency services? Probably all of these. My sister took the photo above, as well as these. Luckily, their home was not damaged.

I heard the tornado sirens, and was foolish enough to them, but it could have been much worse without warnings. On January 24, 1967, my mom drove me through a terrible storm to a scout meeting. Shortly before the meeting was over, Debbie's mom came down the steps. She was soaked, her coat was muddy, and we immediately went silent. She told us there had been a tornado, and that she didn't see how people could have survived in some of the homes she'd seen. We all ran up to the parking lot which overlooked the subdivisions. All was dark. Was the power out? Or were the homes really gone? At that moment, we didn't know. Three people died in that tornado, and hundreds were injured, included 2 of our friends who hadn't made it to the meeting. There had been no warning, other than a prediction of storms. Prior to last week, the ’67 storm was the last F4 to hit the Saint Louis area.

Many times my mom has told us the story of the tornadoes in 1896 that hit St. Louis and East St. Louis. Her uncle George was missing after the storm, and his brother Art went out in the rain to look through the rubble. He found George, still alive, buried under the bricks of the building where he worked. George survived grotesque injuries, but Art died of pneumonia soon after. The storm of 1896 killed 255; the third deadliest in US history.

So, yes, I do know better. Next time I'll take a flashlight and the dog and head for the basement. Scout's honor!


  1. I remember the '67 tornado - touched down across the street from us as it started its journey through the area...had a bit of closet time last Friday, no basement here!

  2. We dodged a bullet last Friday! I remember the '67 tornado (it was may 12th birthday). Thank God all our friends and neighbors are ok this time. People may not be so lucky in the South tonight.

  3. I still can't believe that nobody was killed! Access to the weather coverage *must* have played a large part in that.

    These types of storms will be more common in the near future I think, so we need to be even better prepared next time.

  4. you and your family weren't harmed. Tornados scare me, and we've had some horrendous tornados in Cincy (Xenia...1974--really bad). We run for the basement when the sirens blow.

  5. I think we've all got our 'stupid' stories - it's hard to appreciate the overwhelming power of nature without experiencing it firsthand.

  6. Hi Robin, I hate my basement, except at tornado time. Scary stuff!

    Hi Kim, Unfortunately, your prediction about the South is all too true.

    Hi Alan, I wonder about access to weather information in Alabama and elsewhere.

    Hi Kelly, I found these photos of the ’74 tornado. Really frightening.

    Hi Ted, Yes, you can look at pictures or watch a movie, but it doesn't even come close to the experience.

  7. Sometimes, it is hard to know when to act. I am glad you are safe. These tornadoes have been so powerful and numerous.

  8. Good to hear everyone is alright. I'm glad tornadoes are very unusual here in Oregon- I wouldn't even know what to do.

  9. Hi Sage Butterfly, The destruction, especially in the South, has been overwhelming. It makes you think about what's really important.

    Hi Mike, I'm glad you don't have these storms. We're OK, and we'll be better prepared next time.

  10. It is a strange story about George and his brother. Tornadoes and storms are frighteningly random. Now the tragedy in Joplin, Missouri. I do have to wonder if our weather is becoming more extreme.