Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Was that a tornado in my yard?

Chet standing with the fallen tree - this bad boy is HUGE!
Tuesday, May 24 2011 started off a normal day.  The sun was shinning and the birds were chirping.  All day the news, online headlines and campus was buzzing about the possibility for severe weather.  The forecasters were calling it a perfect storm for multiple tornadoes later in the day and it became clear that it wasn't a matter of "If" the tornadoes would happen but "Where" they would touch down.  As the doom became more clear I decided to move up my dental appointment and get home early just to be safe.  I was driving home by 3:30 and arrived at our house on S Country Club Rd to cloudy skies.
First step was getting the jeep as far under our open shed to protect it against possible hail.  Next, I opened the shelter door to help vent it, because it gets very hot in there, and I wanted to be ready just in case.  Shortly after Chet came home and we started dinner.  This was one of his rare nights off, and I am beyond grateful that he was here with me for this crazy night, otherwise full yankee panic would have set in!  I was glued to the TV with the news the in the kitchen while I cooked and Chet zoned out with Andy Zimern in the living room.  Only minutes later they announced that the first "large destructive rain-wrapped tornado" was on the ground about 2  hours away and headed right for Stillwater.  As the situation became more intense, Chet joined me in the kitchen as several other tornadoes were identified on the ground.  Though they were getting closer, still none had reached us by about 40 miles.
Taken on the back porch, shortly after the tornado
Outside the sky went from cloudy, to very dark and began to growl at us.  I brought both cats inside and started to get very nervous.  Chet was watching closely but still didn't seem to worried and was convinced the tornadoes would not make their way to us.  We sat down to eat dinner and the news man started to mention Stillwater.  I was ready to head to the shelter but Chet didn't want to go, there was no immediate danger yet.  The satellite began to go in and out as the storm outside started to get fired up.  It began to down pour and we watched the windows as the sky got worse.
View of damage so close to the house the next morning
The last thing we heard from the news man was him saying "Stillwater, get ready" because the storm was directly above us though the tornadoes on the ground were still far away.  Very quickly the situation changed.  The satellite went out for good, and Chet went to look outside from the front porch.  He called me to the front door and said "Listen, do you hear that?"  Faintly above the noise of the rain and storm I heard what sounded like a jet engine coming from the west side.  We realized we could hear a tornado coming right for us.  Chet told me to run to the master closet and I grabbed the kitten on my way.  The power went out, and the house got dark.  I wanted to head to the tornado shelter but he told me there was no time.  We ran to the closet and the storm became madness outside as we watched branches and leaves flying around.  We stayed on the floor in the closet for about 5 minutes while the storm raged outside.  As it started to ease up Chet went to investigate and I stole a peek out the back door.
It was then we realized a 40 ft tree had been torn up by the roots and lay along the house. 
I went back into the closet and Chet evaluated the storm.  I called my Mom as the reality of the situation hit me and I began to panic.  A tornado had just come through our yard and picked up a massive tree.  At this point I had no idea of the damage, and it also dawned on me that my cat Friday was somewhere outside.  Chet came to get me shortly later and we headed to the porch to evaluate.
Huge limbs down along the driveway
The tree that fell was at least 40 ft tall and fell to the East onto a second tree that was now snapping in half.  Both trees sit along our fence line about 30 feet from our home.  It was God's hand that allowed it to fall in that direction, because had it fallen north it would have collapsed right on our house.  We could see debris all over the property but it was raining and lighting badly still so we waited on the porch for the storm to ease up.  As the rain lessened we ventured off the porch to see significant sized limbs down along the driveway, a large branch on the roof and porch and the big tree completely up rooted along the house.  But the house stood almost untouched, not a single broken window!  And even more shocking, Chet's truck parked directly in front of the house was untouched despite being only a few feet from where the tree had been pulled by the tornado and was ripped from the ground.  We realized we had not been hit by the full force of the tornado, it had hop scotched through the property only touching down twice to damage trees but somehow it had jumped over the house and Chet's truck.  It was clearly a very close call. 
Branch across the front porch and on the roof
As we walked around the property, I was no doubt feeling the stress and began to have some contractions.  It really sunk in how bad this could have been and the fact that our lives had been in real danger.  I cut my photo time short and went to lay down, the baby was obviously feeling my stress and she was kicking me all over the place after my painful contractions.  After I rested with my feet up and drank some water the contractions stopped and I felt better.  Friday, our cat, even returned to the house shortly after the storm passed and she was completely fine.  I have no idea where she was hiding during the tornado but she came home safe!
  Shortly later our neighbors came by to say that several power lines and trees were across the road up north and completely blocked the road.  The biggest surprise that they told us was that our neighbors had completely lost two homes and two barns but thankfully no one was hurt.  They live north on the road to us about 1/8 of a mile away.  We attempted to go see the damage but the power lines prevented us from getting close.  Even at a distance we could see it was bad. 
We returned to the house and prepared for the night.  Thankfully, the temperature dropped because we also had no AC and I was starting to get very uncomfortable.  We opened up the windows and I tried to get some sleep though I didn't have much luck.  We could hear the power company and emergency services up the road working to clear the road and help the neighbors. By 6 am (12 hours later) the power came back on. 

The view from the S Country Club Rd
2nd story is completely gone, this is where our neighbors lived.
Wednesday morning I videoed the damage to our house and the neighbors.  I did not get to see the 2nd house that was damaged, it was a bit much for me to take in.  Our neighbor Jerry completely lost his barn, it was leveled and debris was scattered everywhere.  It was hard to tell his large barn had even been there, the pieces were everywhere!  I couldn't believe we had missed the major damage and it really sunk in how lucky we were.  We still had our home!  I took pictures of our road and the homes and barns that were destroyed.  It was scary how bad the damage was, and it was so close to us!  From the damage to the trees you can clearly make out the path of the tornado.
We are thankful that no one was hurt.  We learned later that the news was not aware of the tornado that hit us, and it touched down less than three miles from our house and headed straight for us.  We only got the tail of it on our property as it went back up, most of the tornado was concentrated right down the road.  The sound we heard when standing on our front porch was indeed the tornado coming for us!  There was no way for us to know a tornado was on the ground at that time!
Along my road, the path of the tornado.

Next step will be cleaning up, and praying our thanks that we walked away from it all and even had a home to return to.  This could have been much worse!   We are hoping our neighbors are able to rebuild. 

This used to be a 2 story barn right down the road.
Whats left of our neighbor's two story home.

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