It's been nearly three years since The Disaster, and I still see the damage, hear the ferocious winds, feel the sense of fear and forboding panic ...
Nearly three years ago, Greensburg, Kansas, where I live with my family, was decimated by a killer tornado that went to F-5 status on the Fujita Tornado Scale; it was the worst of its kind, in terms of tornado strength. Over 95% of the town was flattened, including our home; and fourteen people died as a result of the storm, with many more injured, some quite severely. The only thing that saved us was our storm shelter we'd built the year before.
I remember that day quite clearly. Conditions were right for the formation of severe storms later in the day; in fact, the National Weather Service (NWS) was putting our area in a "high risk" for formation of storms, some, of which, could very likely go tornadic. They were predicting some sort of tornado outbreak; that's how juicy and unstable the air mass was over our area.
Most of the day seemed uneventful; the skies remained clear with nothing but a few minor cirrus clouds: nothing too unusual. It was just a typically hot early May day, rather warm for this time of year. People went about their usual activities, enjoying the early seaon warmth and sunshine, oblivious to the changes in the atmosphere.
The storm system that would cause us so much grief began forming somewhere in the Texas Panhandle roughly around five p.m. that evening, in the northeast quadrant. The system went through several "phases" in the early evening as it moved into the Oklahoma Panhandle, with nothing but a few isolated tornadoes reported. The system slowly organized itself as it went through Oklahoma and into Kansas. The first warning issued was for Clark County, Kansas, at approximately 8:35 p.m.
Several storm chasers who were chasing the system said a tornado was forming at around 9:20 p.m.
A night storm: the worst kind, because you didn't know what was coming until a.) it was upon you or b.) it was too late.
The National Weather Service issued a tornado emergency when it was discovered that the tornado grew to an incredible 1.7 miles in width. It was a very dangerous storm; anyone who would be caught in its path were told to get to shelter immediately or they would very likely be killed, or at least badly injured.
It was that serious. And what was worse was that this storm was headed right smack for us. We were in its path!
At the time we were told of the tornado warning, we were eating supper: me, ma, pa, and my little brother, Toby, six. I was 11. We were having potatoes, chicken fried steak, and poke salad. We were about to say our prayers when the sirens went off. At the sound of the wailing sirens, we immediately ditched our dinner, and we headed to our storm shelter, where we would wait out the storm.
We could hear the house collapsing above us as we huddled in our shelter; all we could do during that time was pray and hold onto each other, pleading with God not to let us blow away. It was beyond terrifying!
It seemed as soon as it began, the winds stopped, just like that. We crawled out of our storm shelter like bears emerging from a cave; what we saw devastated us. We didn't have a house: everything lay in a heap of rubble, and we immediately got soaked from the pouring rain that was now falling. We started crying and thanking God simultaneously, for letting us survive the storm, but bemoaning the fact that we no longer had a home. We were now homeless.
It turned out that we weren't the only ones affected. Just about all of my town was: there was devastation everywhere you looked; nobody was left untouched. I began worrying about neighbors, friends, wondered if they managed to get through the tornado's fury.
We were later taken to a shelter put up by the Red Cross, where we were given blankets, hot food, and a place to stay. They would take care of our immediate needs; we would then have to look for a place to live, get a new car or truck, and take care of our affairs (that would come later); right now, though, we were more worried about where we were going to stay until our house was rebuilt. It was one of the worst moments of our lives.
Ever since then, every spring, I am scared, shaking-scared. I keep thinking another tornado is going to carry us away, and I wonder what would happen if it were to happen again. What's to say we wouldn't have a repeat?? I hate storms now with a purple passion; just to see a cloud in the sky is enough to get my sensors on high alert because I'm afraid that they are going to turn into storm clouds, possibly throwing out large hail, damaging downburst winds, extremely heavy rains, dangerous lightning, and tornadoes that can wipe out entire cities if they get strong (or big) enough.
I now see a counselor every week, as a way of helping me deal with the bad tornado memories; I really don't see it making any difference because every time storms are forecast, I turn a deeper shade of chicken. I'm more scared of storms now than I ever was.