Moral Dilemma, Severe Weather

With the onset, and direct threat of severe weather having begun, I’d like to relate a personal account of a few close calls. My first tornado experience was many years ago, I was 16 or 17. My folks had a sizable wooden shed where many tools and whatnot were stored. There was an old recliner in there that I would sometimes kick back in, and listen to a stereo, and pass the time. I fell asleep in that recliner one night, and vaguely remember my mom coming in a draping a blanket over me, then I was right back asleep. I soon awoke to the sound of multiple thunder claps occuring in very close bursts. The wind got up quite intensely, then the rain came in blowing sideways at a great velocity. There was a piece of wood covering a windowless pane that was quickly blown down. Instinctually I reached for some nails and a hammer and proceeded to tack this piece back in place, already soaking wet and using my body to hold it in place against the wind and driving rain. At that point the sound became frightening, the common reference to locomotive diesels running wide open is an apt one. The building was supported on concrete block pillars, and began lifting up and shaking back and forth, but remained in it’s initial location. The storm soon passed and I was not injured physically, but I will never forget that experience. This storm moved on and just a little further on destroyed a marina a few miles away. You could literally trace its path by the wake of downed trees, and damaged roofs. 

I was a commercial diver for over 30 years working on the Tennessee river, a harvester of freshwater mussels, whose shell is used in the cultured pearl industry. Having been out there for so many years battling the weather, currents, and ignorant fools with large fast boats, I have a lot of tales I could tell but this one was my only visual sighting of a tornado. I was working in deep water 45-50 feet or so, and had a boat tender hired at the time. His job was to pull up the sacks I filled and grade the shell, by legal requirements. I had finished up my 1st dive which yielded a decent haul for the time spent and was about to break for lunch, when we saw a fairly mean looking storm heading our way. There was an inlet close by to some backwater, you do not want to be out on the river in the wide open when the wind gets up and the lightning starts blasting. So we idled in and hit the bank to wait out the storm and eat lunch in the meantime. I was preoccupied with the lunch part, when my boat tender tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to the sky. There was a small funnel descending from the dark storm front. Then as we watched you could occaisionally see a ribbon of dark material traveling up an otherwise invisible air current. A tornado. This visual repeated itself a lot, now you see it, now you don’t, then we started getting quarter sized hail falling on us, and an eerie updraft could be felt. You could feel the air lifting upwards from around your feet, it was almost enough to make the hair on your hand stand on end. After the storm passed, me being the kind of guy I am I was ready to get back to work, but at my tender’s request we quit for the day. The next morning during breakfast at our usual restaurant, there was another table with divers seated, that I overheard talking. One guy was saying “it was like being in a tornado.” I asked what was his location, and he was right in the path of what we witnessed the day before. I informed him indeed it was a tornado, probably an F0 or a weak F1 he had experienced.

This next one was close to home, damn close. I awoke in dead of night, just like the first story, to multiple thunder claps in rapid succession. I lay there hearing it get louder and more menacing as it got closer. Soon the wind got up to a level I have never experienced, and the locomotive sound and vibration was deafening. I quickly analyzed that this was approaching from my southwest, and tornados generally travel southwest to northeast, and I concluded this was my last night on earth. I lay there with no place to run, and could only think I was grateful I had hugged my kids before I went to bed. The storm passed without any major damage to us, thankfully. It was somewhere around 3 in the morning and I decided to wait till daylight to see what had ensued. Our yard was littered with trees limbs and other debris, I started finding golf tees, a mounted deer antler, parts of roof shingles, an F3 had passed within 400 yards of us, right after it completely obliterated a nice brick home not far from here. The debris in my yard was from their house. There was no house left. The people escaped to their basement just in time and were not harmed. This tornado went on a ways and killed a woman not far from here, who was out looking for her dog in the storm. I hear flying debris hit her killing her on the spot. This storm moved further west spawning tornados one of which did a great deal of damage to Clarksville Tn.

Cut to today. Somehwere around 20 dead in Arkansas, a couple dead in Tn. and a lot of damage in Miss/Ga. and who knows where else. We have only just begun. Let me tell you, I am a grown man, lived through a lot, have fear of very little in this world, but a tornado scares the shit out of me. When severe weather threatens I often tell the wife “I would not wish upon anyone the death and destruction that comes with these storms, but I sure hope it doesn’t hit here.”  

I know there are many who have survived much worse than what I have encountered, many who did not. Having experienced what I have, I feel a great sense of sorrow knowing what has befallen them. Yet am grateful that me and mine are allright. I do not know exactly how to feel about this. On the one hand I am concerned for the health and welfare of my neighbor, yet on the other hand, I am certainly grateful for not having experienced the full force brunt of what is possible. There are days it makes me feel like a dick. Other days I am just glad it hasn’t been much worse that it could be.

My sympathies to all affected by this recent round. Much luck to everyone facing the next.

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10 thoughts on “Moral Dilemma, Severe Weather

  1. I think the same could be said for any tragedy. Whether it is others dying of disease, war, car accident etc. There are a lot of bad ways to die…and a tornado is just one of them. We could also argue that being dead is just never good so let’s avoid it altogether. 🙂

    I am an atmospheric scientist and I come from the complete other side in that I chased tornadoes for my Master’s research at the University of Oklahoma and still lead a storm chasing class every other year to help students improve their forecast skills for severe weather and to see storm structure they would normally never see in the tree and hill ridden landscape of Pennsylvania!

    I’ve seen the destruction it can cause and obviously mourn the loss that others experience at its hands. But I also know loss of life is largely avoidable with tornadoes especially with good educational outreach and communities actively designating shelters from tornadoes. Communication today is so much better for people to be able to spot dangerous storms, report funnel clouds or tornadoes so that people can get out of harms way. I also know that statistically speaking one’s chance of getting hit by a tornado are extremely small, even in those places in which tornadoes happen frequently (relatively speaking). Tornadoes are small, and most of them are weak and occur in sparsely populated locations. I also know that many more people die and more property is destroy each year from flooding than tornadoes and that drowning is no picnic either. But we are all a product of our experiences and a tornado is probably a healthy thing to fear. And I think it is quite natural to be happy you are alive while also feeling bad for others.

    • That would be a blast, actively chasing these outbreaks to witness nature at it its most extreme. Just happening to be asleep in the near vicinity of where these bad boys show up on the other hand is not exactly what I’d call an enjoyable experience.

      After that F3 went through, that morning I went out and purchased the NOAA weather alert radio. I won’t be caught unawares again. In fact that radio alerted me to another scenario, there was a tornado warning alert which got me to turn on the tv. There I saw the radar, the core of the storms location, and its general direction. it was headed right for us. I loaded everyone up and hauled ass in the oppostie direction, then circled back around the storm to home. When we got back it had hailed so much it looked like there was snow on the ground. That storm went on to produce another F3 that obliterated a few homes a few miles further on. It needed a little more time to fully develop.

      Some of the neighbors close by had to have their vinyl siding replaced the hail was blowing so hard it looked like they had been riddled with machine gun fire. I have a tree line that protected us from that assault.

      I have had too many close calls, I have plans to build a storm shelter, just need to get a tree out of the way first. It is one of those things you know needs doing, but gets put off for one reason or another. I need to remedy that.

      Got an extra seat on your next storm chasing run? 🙂 I am a handy guy to have around.

      • I’ll be leading the chase next year, and yes we typically have extra space. You would have to pay tuition for the course (around $800), along with food and lodging so it’s not necessarily the greatest deal unless you need college credit! lol Although it’s similar in cost to one of those Storm Chase Tours that are out there.

      • Hmmm, if I could sneak out…maybe. But once my 2 boys and the wife found out where I was going it would cost us an easy 5K for that trip!

        Any ideas on how I could get out of here for a few days, unnoticed? 🙂 I think I will have to leave it to you and your grad students dammit.

      • Not sure I know the best way to deceive your family. LOL Can you tell them you are meddling around with Buddhism and are going to a meditation retreat in the woods somewhere? lol

      • Yeah, that’s it, I need some sort of soul searching walkabout. I fear they know me too well for that. 🙂

        My boys are every bit the adventure junkies I am. I have taken them out with me on weekends and the duration of school vacations since they were big enough to toss an anchor. When circumstances kept me off the water (wind/weather), we would load up and go walk the creeks around here. Catching snakes (identifying and releasing), finding an occaisional stone artifact, just exploring. Now they are big enough to go out without me. I raised em right. There is no way in hell I could get out of here without them attached to me like a passel of opposums.

  2. Just as an aside if you want to look at the worst atmosphere related disaster, it’s actually drought. A lot of people don’t think of it. And of course there can be drought that is exacerbated by governments who withhold food from their people. Either way the economic loss from drought and deaths from starvation and diseases related to hunger and malnutrition FAR outweigh any other natural disaster each year. Hurricanes and Typhoons get a bad rap, but tropical cyclones actually bring a lot of rain and the economic gain and lives saved from the rain being brought to agricultural land usually far outweighs the economic loss due to tropical cyclone damage and deaths. Especially in less developed countries.

    • Interesting the statistics on flooding and drought. I was really unaware that these situations were worse than the tornados and hurricanes that get the news. I mean I know they exist and that they affect a lot of people, but it’s usually something you don’t hear much about. Thanks for your perspective.

      It’s nice to know a guy 😉

      • Flooding and drought occur over longer scales of time and so are not as sudden and so don’t make the news much. And often the worst cases of drought happen in countries that don’t concern the U.S. As I alluded human activities go to making flooding and drought worse. Unsound agricultural practices, poor flood plain management and building damns and levees can all make drought and flooding much worse, but the start of all these is atmospheric in nature.

      • I envy your profession. 🙂

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