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."
"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?