Tornados are a weather phenomenon that adversely affect the geographical areas in which they blow through and touch down. The dictionary description of a tornado involves a violent, destructive, whirling wind accompanied by a funnel-shaped cloud. Living in Shreveport, Louisiana, tornados are one of the usual dangers that residents face, particularly from the last weeks of spring through the early fall months when tornado activity is at its peak. Still, being forewarned of the danger does little to mask the terror and anxiety one feels when a swirling mass of darkness spirals through the neighborhood.
I am a single mother who once found herself caught in the path of a tornado. Not only was it a particularly scary experience from a physical and emotional standpoint but it provided a sense of guilty relief when I witnessed the devastating aftereffects and realized the storm had not penetrated my own home. It was a day early in the fall when the weather forecaster interrupted the radio transmission in my car to inform listeners of an approaching storm as a result of Hurricane Lili coming to shore to the southeast of us.
One glance out the bug-splattered windshield confirmed the presence of a bank of dark bluish-gray clouds close to the horizon with a clearly visible plume of updraft rising from its far eastern perimeter. I hurried to pick up my daughter from day care. Outside of my car, it was eerily quiet – I am sure this is what meteorologists refer to as the “calm before the storm” – with a feel of dense humidity in the air and the crackle of electric currents humming through. The birds had quit singing and the streets were nearly deserted.
I shuddered involuntarily as I strapped my daughter into her car seat and felt a prickle of goose bumps form along my arms. It did not take long for the storm to gain momentum. The bank of clouds which had been perched just above land now swelled upward and overtook the sky, turning it from its familiar deep blue to a desolate gray and black. The clouds began to swirl while the wind whipped and battered the exterior of my house. The windows rattled in their frames as huge drops of icy rain pelted against the glass. A row of elm trees in the back yard were flattened nearly horizontal with the force of the wind.
It was then that the infamous funnel shape appeared, swirling down out of the blackness of the clouds and narrowing to a dizzyingly fast yo-yo point on the ground. It was at this point that I headed down to the hallway in the center of the house with my daughter. I covered her little body with mine and crouched there with trepidation and rough carpet fibers digging deep into my knees. There was sound now, waves and walls of deep-throated sound that combined with the rattling of the house and the wind and the rain. I remember feeling the sound, it was so intense.
It reminded me of a freight train chugging with renewed thrust as it bore ever closer to our house. Terror and anxiety held an iron-fisted grip on my heart as the structure shuddered and the noise heightened to a crescendo that was nearly ear-splitting. I cradled my daughter in my arms, covering her little ears with my palms and pressing her face along the dusty baseboards. And then it was over. As quickly as the tornado had formed, it moved on. I stood shakily, uncertainly, peeking around the corner to spy outside the living room windows before I would allow my daughter to rise from the hallway floor.
There was still a roof over our heads, although the elm trees looked none too healthy in their prayer stance alongside the back fence. I experienced a tremendous rush of relief and gratitude which found an outlet in a sudden outpouring of tears. “Why are you crying, mama? ” asked my daughter. I just shook my head in response, unable to vocalize my feelings just yet. Instead, I grabbed her to me and gave her a bone-crunching hug and a kiss on the top of her head. Early the next morning I had occasion to drive through the neighborhood on my way to work.
I could hardly believe my eyes as they swept across the scene laid out before me. Trees of great girth were laying on their sides, uprooted and creating insurmountable barriers in driveways and thoroughfares. A house just one block over was completely destroyed, its roof ripped away and just a skeleton of walls laying bare the devastation within. A car was overturned onto its roof another block away and everywhere there was trash and debris, leaves and branches, garbage cans and children’s toys. The path of the tornado could easily be traced by the wide swath of its devastation. I will never forget the effects of that tornado.
The darkening sky, the pelting rain, the roaring wind and that sound like a freight train steaming towards me will forever be imprinted on my mind and my psyche. Not only did the tornado storm through the neighborhood and destroy houses and trees and cars, it caused emotional distress for both me and my daughter. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life and yet it has managed to make me stronger and also make me realize just how precious life really is. I am thankful every day that I managed to make it through the tornado safe and intact and merely as witness to the devastation which affected my neighbors.