Since severe weather season is upon us in the Ozarks, I thought I would share my scary story with you. First, a little background. When I’m not writing, I work for a manufacturer in my city’s industrial park. We’re out east of the city, in a big bare spot carved out for the park. Last year, on May 8th, my workplace got hit with a tornado.
That morning, the TV weather warned that a derecho was on the way. Meteorologists expected high winds, possible tornadic activity and heavy rains from this storm, sometimes known as an inland hurricane.
The sky was utterly black; the streetlights were still on. As I drove, I felt a creepy unease. For some reason I had worn my watch that day, which I usually don’t. I glanced at it. It was ten to eight; it could have been midnight.
At work things were as usual, but people got up occasionally and went to the windows to check out the sky. It had lightened enough so the streetlights were off, but still scary dark. I had the radar up on my computer, as did several others. Around 8:30, the National Weather Service put out a tornado warning for my city. We stopped working altogether and gathered near the bathrooms, our safe place. A vendor came in for his weekly visit and we invited him to shelter with us.
Suddenly the wind rose sharply, and the building began to shake. Our safety manager yelled “GO! and we all broke and ran for the bathrooms.
Inside, we could hear the building creak and the wind howl. The lights went off and the emergency lamps came on. I was so scared I grabbed a coworker’s hand and held on tight, until gradually the winds began to subside and silence crept over us. We could hear something creaking and flapping and I said, “Something’s loose.”
We came out and immediately went to the windows, which fortunately were still intact. Our plant across the street had been hit. An enormous section of the roof lay gnarled up on the ground east of the building like a giant, crumpled gum wrapper.
Weirdly, a plant worker’s pickup truck, which had been parked on the west end of the parking lot near the access road in front of the stricken building, was now out on the access road, pointed back at Plant 1, where the office was. Although the Weather Service never confirmed it, that’s when I knew for sure it was a tornado; it had blown the roof off one way, and moved the truck the other.
Little chopped green bits of leaves had been plastered all over the windows and when I went out later, I found them all over the door. A semi trailer that had been parked at Plant 2’s dock was blown over. We were all afraid it had crushed our shipping manager’s car, but he’d parked on the other side and it was okay. He later said he hated that car and he wished it had!
The wind picked up again, and the radio blared high wind warnings until 1 p.m. No one could go outside for a while. When it began to slack off, the vendor excused himself and left, and people ventured out and discovered that windows in several vehicles had been broken.
Mine was okay because it was parked between two of my coworkers. A small tree we liked to park near in hot weather was completely uprooted. The tornado had snapped the power pole behind us clean in half, and tried to suck the big company name letters off the building. Several of them were broken and some were gone.
It a very scary and exhausting day, but it could have been much worse. No employees in the office or the plants were injured. This was a very bad storm that killed at least four people in other counties in my state and destroyed numerous homes, businesses and schools. The governor had to declare a disaster area. That seems to be something we are starting to get used to hearing in this area, unfortunately. Between ice storms (that’s another story), flooding and tornadoes, I think I’m ready to move!
Here is a reminder of storm safety.
- Severe storm hazards include tornadoes, powerful straight-line winds, flooding and lightning. In an electrical storm, stay indoors, away from windows and off the phone (landlines mostly). Don’t take a bath or shower during a lightning storm either. Yes, it can get you there; Mythbusters confirmed it.
If you’re caught outside in lightning, experts advise not lying on the ground. Lightning travels through the ground and you don’t want to expose yourself to it. Instead, crouch down and cover your ears. Be a basketball with feet.
- In a tornado, seek shelter in an interior room, away from windows. A closet or bathroom is good if you don’t have a basement. Sit next to the wall and cover your head. DO NOT GO OUTSIDE TO LOOK AT THE TORNADO. Flying debris can kill you!
Outside, get out of your car and into a ditch or low-lying area. Lie flat and cover your head.
DO NOT seek shelter in an overpass; it acts as a wind tunnel.
- Straight-line winds can reach up to 80 miles an hour and cause as much damage as tornadoes. Safety tips are the same as for tornadoes. In a car, pull off the road. High-profile vehicles are especially vulnerable.
- Floods kill the most people in storms. NEVER drive your car into flood waters! You can be swept away in less than two feet of water. Remember, turn around, don’t drown!
The links contain more information about severe weather hazards. You can read about the May 8th, 2009 derecho on its Wikipedia page.