Weather of my life: No. 8 …

The Bullseye, Page 1, March 15, 2006

No. 8: Tornado outbreak, central Missouri/Renick, all day, March 12, 2006 – The front page of the March 15, 2006, edition of the Northern Boone County Bullseye showed stories of both tragedy and triumph in tiny Missouri towns just 25 miles apart: a killer tornado in Renick and jubilant basketball fans in Harrisburg. A more personal account of a close-up brush with Mother Nature’s fury was the focus on my Page 4 column, “Thinking Out Loud.”

Rather than rely on memory, here’s that column that was written less than 24 hours after the storm.

Nature’s fury: Much too close for comfort

Many of us have our own harrowing tales of Sunday’s day-long round of wicked weather. It’s still hard to grasp that as many as 107 tornadoes — that’s one-hundred and seven — were either spotted or touched down in Missouri.

Our prayers and hearts this week are with the residents of Renick, where four people lost their lives. So I won’t pretend that any personal account I have is superior to the stories of survival told by those who lived across the street from the Briscoes, who were killed when the tornado literally ripped them out of their mobile home; or the grandson who was on the telephone with his grandmother, 84-year-old Margaret Everhart, when the storm ended her life.

Instead, I’ve found myself deeply reflective — and feeling more than just fortunate. Our home in Clark is just seven miles from Randolph County Road 2650 where the Briscoes lived. We had neighbors, the Shives, in our living room at 9:15 p.m. Sunday, all of us ready to dash into the basement when the storm came. Shelby even brought her guinea pig.

Instead, the fury of the storm went somewhere else, even if only a few miles up the road.

Earlier in the afternoon, we were headed to Marshall to meet my mother at the Stuckey’s on I-70 — a half-way point between us and her home in Warrensburg, where our youngest is attending college. It was time to return Natasha to CMSU after a busy week of spring break at home.

Mom couldn’t leave Warrensburg at the appointed time, because she was in my brother’s basement as sirens signaled a tornado warning.

First, let me frame the context of what “tornado warning” used to mean and what it means now. When I was a kid, by the time the TV or radio weather man said “tornado warning,” it was usually too late. That usually meant, “A tornado has just passed through your town.” There wasn’t much warning, unless you saw it coming your way.

Now, thanks to all kinds of fancy weather-forecasting tools, we get warnings from a few minutes to an hour ahead of time. If the back edge of a supercell thunderstorm has rotating winds, it’s a tornado warning.

The problem with that is many trailing edges of thunderstorms have rotating winds, so there seems to be an abundance of tornadoes, especially Sunday. On the other hand, there was an abundance of actual tornadoes, so the weather crews were getting it right.

But rather than heed those warnings that crept from Johnson County to Pettis County to Saline County to Cooper County, we drove to Marshall — into the storm.

I had expressed disappointment several times that I’d left the camera at home, thinking we might see a tornado. I’ve seen a few in the past, but they were all at some distance, dancing on their pointed tails.

When the radio station we were tuned to warned, “If you are in the vicinity of the Arrow Rock exit on I-70, take cover immediately,” we were just zipping past the Arrow Rock exit on I-70.

Our accounts are a bit varied from that point. I’m thinking it lasted 20 or 30 seconds. Kelly says 2 minutes. Natasha says 5 minutes. But we all agreed that the entire sky swirled with leaves, boards and debris above us — hardly a dancing little tail; that the wind seemed as if it would lift us off the ground at any moment; that my feeble driving skills were fully controlled — for however long — by Someone much greater as our little SUV dodged debris and other vehicles.

And then it was over, although my heart has not stopped racing.

Finally home a few hours later, we settled in for another round of warnings and bad weather. But we were safe, with a basement just a hop away.

And so we’re grateful, blessed and showered with grace. And broken-hearted that not everyone survived the stormy Sunday.

Page 10, March 15, 2006, Northern Boone County Bullseye

That’s all the tornadoes for now. The next three entries in my life list of all-time weather are winter-related. But there’s still one tornado left.

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