You may pity the folks who live in Tornado Alley, but don’t look for them to pity themselves. At least not this week. They are too busy cleaning up from the latest series of tornadoes, which ripped through southeastern Nebraska on Mother’s Day Sunday.
“Tornado Alley“ is a colloquial term for the area of the United State where tornadoes happen most often. Although the boundaries of Tornado Alley aren’t clearly defined, its core is northern Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. That is to say, for me: home. Tornadoes have been spotted on every continent except Antarctica, though the vast majority of them occur in Tornado Alley.
A tornado is a violently rotating column of air that is in contact with both the surface of the earth and usually a cumulonimbus cloud. Tornadoes can appear in many sizes and shapes, and sometimes they aren’t even visible until they hit. Some tornadoes are so obscured by rain or dust, that even experienced meteorologists can’t spot them. These tornadoes are especially dangerous, for obvious reasons!
Most of us who live in Tornado Alley have first-hand tornado stories, and we love to tell them. Just ask! Well, we love to tell them if enough time has elapsed since they happened. I have several tornado stores, though (thank God) we’ve never actually gone through a tornado hitting us. There have been lots of near-misses.
I remember the time that we were under a tornado warning, and I crept upstairs from the basement to take a quick look at the sky, only to see dark swirling clouds right above our house. I bolted back to the relative safety of the basement, and was grateful that the tornado above us didn’t come down and make contact with the ground. Or our house. It has been ten years now since a 2.5-mile-wide swept away most of the little town of Hallam, Nebraska. We have close friends who live right outside of Hallam, whose house was spared, though it was heavily damaged. It still gives me chills to hear their story, though I’ve heard it several times. That F-4 tornado is ranked as one of the widest tornadoes ever recorded.
Large single-vortex tornadoes can look like large wedges stuck into the ground, and so are known as “wedge tornadoes” or “wedges”. A wedge can be so wide that it appears to be a block of dark clouds, wider than the distance from the cloud base to the ground. Even experienced storm observers may not be able to tell the difference between a low-hanging cloud and a wedge tornado from a distance. Many, but not all major tornadoes are wedges. I think I need to buy some decent binoculars.
Trained storm spotters identified 12 to 15 tornadoes in southeast Nebraska on Mother’s Day Sunday. Sitting in Bible class that morning, one of my friends mentioned to me that it looked like we were in for it later, as there were potentially violent storms in the weather forecast for that afternoon.
When the weather radio went off later that afternoon, (a good weather radio is a must if you live in the country) indicating that we were in a tornado warning for the better part of the next hour, Bryan and I did what we always do when we’re in a tornado warning:
we gather up the kids and head for the basement we go out to the backyard to watch the unfolding drama. That’s after we send the kids to the basement. And after we get our vehicles under cover. And the bags of chicken feed that were left in the yard. And all my hundreds of little seedlings, out catching some sun. And close up the hoophouse as tight as we can get it. And pray for safety. After all that, we slip out to the backyard and watch, and shiver a little. Or, as in this case, a lot.
We have a great view of the western sky from our backyard, and usually the weather blows in from the west. So there we were, just a bit
terrified nervous to be out during a tornado warning, but too fascinated by the rapidly-changing and swirling and darkening clouds that we were watching. We didn’t sit down. We stayed standing, just in case we needed to run. We took turns muttering “We’d better head to the basement now,” yet we stayed rooted to the spot.
The tornado siren was screaming from town–an ominous sound, since it just went on and on and on. We knew, of course, that it was saying “Take Cover. Now.”
I did bolt to the house when I realized that I should really have my camera with me. By the time I snapped a couple of pictures, the sky had become so frightening to look at that we did head for the basement–at a rapid pace, let me tell you–and turn on the t.v. to the local weather reports. (Note to my Gentle Reader: do as I say, not as I do: if you’re in a tornado warning, and especially if the tornado siren is screaming from town, you should be in the basement or the safest part of your house.)
Little did I know that as we were watching the sky to the west, tornadoes were hitting three little towns just a few miles from us: Cordova, Sutton, and Beaver Crossing. We drove over to Beaver Crossing the next day to take a look. Beaver is a little town of about 400 people. The damage was breathtaking, but amazingly, nobody was hurt.
That’s because people took cover, Amy. Okay, okay, I get it! 😉
We drove across to Beaver on gravel roads, and we could pretty much follow the path of the tornado. At least one of the tornadoes, that is. Oh yes. It had been here, at this little farm, and had tossed the vehicles around and crumpled the metal buildings like they were made of tin foil.
As we got closer to Beaver, more debris was littered across the farm fields. The farmers in our area keep their fields exquisitely neat and tidy. But not today.
These irrigation pipes are stout. Yet they are piled up and wrapped around this tree like pipe cleaners.
I couldn’t get over this. The storm had also picked up several of these pipes–which I’m sure were neatly stacked, before the tornado–and tossed them carelessly around the fields around us.
We came upon this fellow who was “trying to help protect people,” worrying over a cable which had fallen across the road. He spent quite a bit of time covering it with old towels and books. He had only one boot on. He would dash–hop–to his car, pull out a few towels, lay them carefully across the cable, and then turn and dash–hop–back to his car for more. We sat and watched, and puzzled.
When he had the cable completely covered, he waved for us to drive over. I went to talk with him. “Are you going to drive across?” I asked, looking down at his assortment of old towels and books covering the cable. Was the cable hot? Would it fry us in our car? Would our tires keep up grounded? I hesitated.
“What happened to your other boot?” I asked. He glanced up at me. “I have another boot,” he assured me. Then, with another glance at me (so I look like a mother, sue me) he said, turning “Okay, I’ll go put it on.” He ran and hopped back to his vehicle, scrabbling about inside it for his other boot, and pulled it on.
He called across to me “You want me to go first?” I was mentally backing up my vehicle at that point. But he jumped in his car and drove carefully across, and then gave me the thumb’s-up. No Fried Us today, thank you very much.
I still can’t tell you what good this might do . . . if those wires were hot, would good would towels and books do . . . ?? Anybody?
We saw big trees toppled and pulled up by the roots, and the tops of trees for miles around just torn apart. You could spot where the tornadoes touched the ground by the path of bare, torn treetops.
What a mess. Where there were trees down, people had already begun cutting and stacking and in some places, splitting firewood. Midwesterners are pretty good at making lemonade from lemons, and I can just imagine the thought process (being privy to it, myself): well, at least we’ll get an early start on processing our firewood for this winter!
I don’t know how you go about putting these center pivot irrigation units back upright. Do they have to take them apart, and re-assemble them piece by piece?
There were lots of friends and neighbors lined up to help clean things up. That’s what I love about living in Nebraska. Nobody waits around for a government program or an aid society to show up. Everybody just puts on work clothes and leather gloves and quietly gets busy helping their neighbors.
This hay shed was a complete loss.
Um. . . don’t think we’ll try this road here. . .
Tornadoes never come alone. This one came accompanied by heavy rain, hail, and of course straight-line winds. We saw lots of flooding, and this problem was exacerbated by the fact that there were piles of uprooted and broken trees clogging up the waterways.
Finally we got to town.
It didn’t look to me as if any house or business was spared. Some houses had roofs removed and windows broken. Since there had been hail and heavy rain with this storm, everything was wet and water-damaged, I’m sure.
“I’m thinking, kids, that maybe we oughta clean out the attic sometime soon . . . just in case . . . ” 🙁 Driving around, looking at how peoples’ houses were destroyed, and they possessions spread out for everybody to see . . . I could just imagine if our roof was removed by a tornado and all our junk spread out over several miles. I could picture the Google Earth image. It wasn’t pretty. (God forbid.) I’ve been de-junking a bit every day, but maybe I should pick up the pace . . .
The main street of Beaver was closed, and these fellows were keeping it closed. We certainly weren’t going to challenge them.
There were signs of optimism everywhere . . . a quickly-erected flag. Folks waving and smiling at us. The sun was shining. All was not lost.
The day that we were out taking pictures, there were lots of people operating tractors and backhoes and other heavy equipment, helping clean up. In the midst of it I saw this laundry line, hung with freshly-washed clothes. Of course, life goes on, even during tornado clean-up. Since there was no electricity, I wondered how these folks washed these clothes. Maybe they had a portable generator. Maybe we should get a portable generator.
Tornadoes can do so much damage, in just a few minutes. It has been a tough week in the little towns of Cordova, Beaver Crossing, and Sutton, where the damage was the worst, but I hear it over and over again: Houses can be rebuilt. Things can be replaced. But we’re so glad that nobody was hurt.
I’m sharing this post with the nice folks over at The Prairie Homestead Barn Hop. Come on over!
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