Monday, July 21, 2008

The House Began To Pitch...

I would not have been surprised to have seen the Wicked Witch go by our front window on her broom around 8pm yesterday.

Jason and I had been enjoying a quiet house. Mom has been in the mood to have Ainsley over a lot this week (sometimes she misses Dad and gets lonely and doesn't want to be the only human sleeping in her house at night) and had volunteered to have the kid over for a sleepover. We had had a short little rainshower move through, but we were under no tornado or thunderstorm watches. We didn't have the TV on; we were just chilling out, occasionally glancing out the patio door at the darkening skies.

Suddenly, we heard a siren.

Our county sounds sirens anytime there is a combination of a tornado watch and a severe thunderstorm warning. Since we had checked earlier to see if we were under any watches, we were confused. Why were they sounding the storm siren? Unless...

Unless there was a tornado warning.

We clicked on the TV and it was already on a channel where the station had broken in with an urgent weather message. We immediately saw an annotated radar map on our screen. And there was a big, gray circle around the city of Erlanger.

Time to panic! That's where my mom lives.

We heard the meteorlogist say there was a rotating supercell thunderstorm. No tornadoes had touched down, but Doppler radar strongly suggested this was possible in that tiny area where there was a bow echo. He said people in the northern part of Erlanger, just south of Crescent Springs and just across the Boone County line, should immediately take cover.

If you asked me to describe where my mother lived, I would have said, "The northern part of Erlanger, close to Crescent Springs and close to the Boone County line."

I can't tell you how horrible it is to be away from your child and to hear that she could possibly be in grave danger.

Jason and I weren't even worried about ourselves. Our house was getting battered by hail and torrential rain and lightning was striking close enough to rattle our house and make my hair stand on end. But all I could think of was my baby in a house in the eye of a storm. A house with no basement.

I called mom.

"What are you doing? You know what's going on, right?"

"Yeah, we're getting some bad storms over here."

No shit.

"You don't have the news on, do you?"

I heard her fiddle with the remote.

"I did, but they didn't say much."

"Turn it on again. You need to get Ainsley to a safe place."

Just then the station I was watching flipped to a tower-cam feed that showed northern Kentucky from a transmission camera across the river. You could see a funnel coming out of a storm cloud, which the weather man was saying looked to be in the Erlanger area.

About that time I hear Ainsley freaking out. Mom had flipped to the same station we were watching, and Ainsley heard the words "tornado" and "Erlanger" and went into the kind of panic attack only a five-year-old can.

About that time we also had a lightning strike outside that made the lights dim for a minute and made the phone line crackle. I had to hang up and get me and Jason to our basement.

It was a long five minutes. Mom had said before we hung up that they were going to the part of my childhood home that Dad had always told us to go to in the event of a tornado, the tiny closet in the windowless, central hallway. Jason and I held each other as we watched the radar on the TV in our basement room, and as each sweep of the arm showed movement out of mom's part of town and southwest into other parts of the county, we held our breath.

I called back. I prayed that my mother answered the phone.

She did, and reported that though Ainsley was not calming down much, the weather was.

The threat had passed.

I talked to Ainsley and could hear the fear in her voice.

"It's over, Ainsley. You're going to be alright. There isn't a tornado."

"But is it okay where you are?"

As worried as I was about her, she was just as worried about her mom and dad. We technically live in Erlanger, too, though not in the part that the rotation went over.

All heart rates got back to normal. As scared as Ains had been, she resisted our offer to come get her and bring her home. Even when under severe weather threat, Mamaw's is still her happy place.

Come the 11 o'clock news, Jason and I had put a lot of the fear behind us. Beer helped. But then the weatherman played back phone calls to the station by people who had seen funnels out at Turway Park, and showed amateur photography of a funnel almost touching the ground from the window of a Blockbuster video that I used to walk to from my mom's house, and I got the shakes again. By all indications, there was a funnel cloud that passsed within half a mile of my mother's house.

It all happened so fast. One minute, skies were blue. No warnings, no alerts. The next, there was a rotaing death cloud.

There was this episode of Roseanne where the Connors' city gets hit by a tornado. Their house isn't damaged, but others close by are. As she and Dan start to clean up debris from the yard and comfort their kids, Roseanne breaks down. Dan asks what's wrong; they all survived, didn't they? And she says something like:

"I feel like this was a warning. Like, there was a note left behind, and the note says, 'So sorry we missed you. Will call again,' and it's signed, The Tornado Man."

I think The Tornado Man left us a calling card, too.

And an aside from the Irony Department: when Ains packed up movies to take to Mamaw's, she chose The Wizard of Oz. And last night's rerun of Desperate Housewives was the one where Lakeview gets hit by a tornado. Fate was trying to tell us something, no?


dd said...

The horrorrrrrrrrr....(in my best Heart of Darkness impression)

We were at mom/dad's for mom's birthday dinner and it was a little frightening. I am not one to be too scared by storms but this one had me a little on edge. You know my dad is one that LOVES a good thunderstorm so he decided to sit on the porch and watch it happen--not very bright but I guess he was in the mood for adventure. When we heard the "tornado warning" announcement, I went out to tell him before thinking about our safe place and he just nodded and gave me a "yep, could be"! WTF??? Since we didn't have a basement either, we were looking at about 10 of us in the tiny bathroom, the only room without windows!!!!! Mom got Betty Lou in there with the boys and everyone else was on standby....anyway, Aidan was terrified only because he knew Pea was home alone and the pictures on the TV were showing that huge cloud with about 10 tails on it right over the Levy! He was worried that the dog would get hurt.......not that we were facing being crammed into the tub with all 10 of us, a mattress on our heads, and maybe losing the roof....but the dog. God love him...

Robert K. said...

Scary stuff. I've lived in Oklahoma for nearly 10 years, and we generally have at least 3 or 4 tornado scares each summer. Although the tornado on May 3, 1999 was responsible for my wife and me getting together, so I can't say nothing good has ever come of one. :)

Library Lady said...

dd, I was wondering if you had been at your mom and dad's (for those that don't know, dd's childhood home is on the next street from my mom's house). Did you all actually see anything? Once mom saw a picture on the news that someone took of a funnel cloud over Turfway, she thinks she saw that cloud out the back window and was wondering if that could be what it was right around the time I called. Good to know she was looking out the window while the warning siren was going off.

Rob, you MUST tell that story.

With a full day now to think about it, and with the NWS ruling that no tornado actually touched ground in Erlanger, I feel stupid for getting so worked up. We hear the storm siren quite a bit in the spring and summer around here but I've never heard a tornado warning for our city before. I used to think I wanted to see a tornado some day; now I'm not so sure.

Robert K. said... story is not safe for work. I'll try to remember to message you through MySpace later tonight.

dd said...

I didn't see much of anything. The trees across the street blocked the view of Turfway. There were times, though, when the wind had them almost completely sideways and I didn't see anything that looked too bad---the wind did sound like it would have taken off the side porch, though. I asked my dad and he said that he didn't see anything that looked like a funnel cloud...and you know he was watching the whole thing from the front row!

Melmart said...

And here we were in Walton laughing at the cats running down the hallway and growling at the thunder.

Actually, it was scary here too, they thought we had one on the way here too for awhile.

BTW....I watched the Wizard of Oz way too many times as a kid. Don't like storms but was completely fascinated by this one.