I also witnessed first hand the Andover, KS tornado in 1991 and the Haysville, KS tornado in 1999. There have been many others too with lots of trips to the basement where the kids are told to stay put as the adults in a mesmerized like trance make their way back up the stairs to watch the fury and the beauty of such an impressive phenomenon. Forget the danger involved, watching the greenish cast of the sky, the swirling clouds, a breathtaking lightening show and if you are lucky, the appearance of a tail dipping down.....are usually worth the calculated risk of leaving your basement. On June 12, 2004 though, something was very different and nothing except the tornado itself could have pulled me from the basement that night.
I remember the storms started in the afternoon. The air was thick and hazy/sunny and any Tornado Alley resident knew that "something" in the way of storms was going to be happening that day. By late afternoon the warnings had started. I watched the periodic weather break-ins on the tv as we went from storm watch to tornado watch to storm warning and finally as the station was no longer taking any breaks from the weather, the sirens began going off. I remember grabbing Z who was 8 and David who was 3 and running them down to the basement. Before shoving Z down the stairs with David in his arms, I looked out and saw clouds rushing in all directions and the trees were deadly still. The air felt both heavy and electric and I knew that something was about to happen.
As we hit the basement I turned on the tv. The storm had gone through Wichita and was headed directly at us. The sighting of a tail dropping down and then going back up in the clouds had been reported by several spotters along the way. The sirens had stopped and then suddenly the meteorologist said that there was a spotting of a tornado at K-15 and Rock Rd. The sirens began again full force. This intersection is only a couple of blocks from my house which meant this tornado was headed for the actual town and quite possibly, my house. My heart stopped and then raced. I was trying to figure out what I could throw the boys under and keep them safe from debris and flying objects if the tornado just came on through. It was the first time since I was a little kid that I remembered being really scared of a tornado. Normally it is more of an adrenaline rush, but not that day. Not when I thought it might be coming right down my block.
Like these monsters often do, the tornado tail dropped down but went right back up without actually touching the ground. The storm accompanying it was fierce as it traveled east out of town. I continued to keep glued to the tv as weather spotters were all over our area and reporting into the tv station as the storm picked up momentum. Then the storm did what it had been trying to do for awhile, it dropped a tornado that hit the ground destroying a home/daycare, a saddle club with a home and then another home. Little did I know at the time but one of those homes belonged to a close friend of mine.
It wasn't until the next day at Mass that I heard that one of the houses hit was my friend Chris's house. I nearly died. I immediately got in the car and drove out there. She lives about a mile and a half down a dirt road just off the main highway. As I turned onto her road and drove about half a mile, there started to be rows of cars along the road. Then as I got closer, I saw it. My heart sank. In the field across from where their house stood less than 24 hours before, was her husbands beautiful mustang. It was twisted and folded as if it were nothing more than a piece of paper. There were clothes, belongings and fragments of house and furniture in trees, fields and scattered across the road. Chris's house had been swept completely off it's foundation and everything in the basement had been sucked out. Chris and her youngest son had been home at the time and thankfully watching the storm. She had watched the tornado form and the tail dance up and down several times above her. Then she knew it was time to hit the basement. Grabbing what photos she could and her son, they made their way under the stairs in the basement just as the tornado came down right onto their house exploding it every which way. When all was said and done, the only thing left was the stairs they were under and the photos they grabbed. It was literally a miracle that they were left untouched.
Chris's family had a great deal of support and soon the property was cleared and bravely, they rebuilt on the same site. The saddle club and house also rebuilt as well as the house/daycare. In the midst of all of it, because of all the weather spotters out that day, both official (Weather Channel) and unofficial, our tornado became rather famous with clips being shown regularly when talking about tornado's. What makes it even more interesting is that at the end of most of the videos taken and even in some of the still shots, you can very vividly see Chris's house being hit as it explodes into shooting debris. Not exactly something you want to be famous for.
Now ten years later and I am surprised at how clearly that day still comes back to me. Thankfully we haven't really had anymore calls that close. That day could have ended up so much differently with a lot more damage and lives lost. It does make you realize that we are no match for these twirling beasts and even being in a basement may not be that secure without a safe or reinforced room.
So why do I continue to live in a place where my house could be sucked off its foundation and where literally millions of dollars in damage has been done by such hellacious storms over the last quarter of a century. The answer is......because I live in Oz and there really is.....no place like home!