After all those years of growing up in Oklahoma and Texas, I would never have expected my closest encounter with a tornado—about thirty yards—to be in North Carolina. The storms that came through about 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 9, knocked out our electricity and it was about eighteen hours before we got it back. At first I thought it was a lightning strike that took out our power. It wasn’t until Wednesday morning we discovered it had been raining trees.
I had been sitting upstairs, diligently working on Second Wind manuscripts, when my wife called up at me, “What are you doing up there?” She thought I was pounding on the walls and scratching the window in my study. The sound she heard was truly unique—I’d never heard it either. It was sort of like hail, but at a much lower pitch. In the midst of our yelling back and forth at one another, the lights went out—came on—and went out again. With the moon behind the clouds, there was a sort of eerie gray light illuminating the outdoors. With that and the constant flashes from lighting, I could make out a number of strange shapes in the front yard and the street.
I grabbed a flashlight and went to investigate. It didn’t take long before the weirdness of what I was seeing began to add up. As you can see from the attached photo, we live in a heavily wooded area. A small creek runs along the east side of our yard.
Scattered in our front yard and street were numerous large limbs, twigs and branches. To be specific, they were almost all from sycamore and tulip poplar trees. Our house is surrounded by a number of ornamentals (that’s a dogwood you see standing by itself in the photo above), including a massive cherry tree. On the west side of the house are elms, pines and hickories. Right away I thought it was kind of odd that the gusty wind would select out only certain trees. Then I began to pay closer attention to appearance of the branches I was pulling out of the street.
Every one of the limbs and branches had a telltale “ripped and twisted” appearance from where it had been attached to the tree. This sort of corkscrew tearing does not come from straight wind gusts, but from winds that have a powerful rotation.
The sight of these branches transported me back to an April morning in 2000. I was standing at a large storefront window, trying to judge the severity of a sudden storm, when I saw the top half of a large oak tree floating airborne down the center of the street, rotating as it went by. That morning in Greensboro, NC, there were four or five small tornadoes (category 1 or 2) that followed creek beds throughout the city. Since no alarms were sounded and there had been no weather alert, the civil authorities first reported that these were “straight winds.” It didn’t take long, however, before the type of damage and the narrow pathway of these “winds” forced the recognition that it had been twisters and not straight winds (after that the three local TV stations all quit running ads that boasted about their Doppler radar systems).
Tuesday evening about thirty minutes after the initial storm blasted through, another squall line hit us. This one was straight line winds and torrential rain. Having been outside between the fronts, I could tell on Wednesday morning that the heavy winds that came through with the second front had not resulted in any more damage or downed limbs. Over the course of the next couple hours in the daylight, we discovered the twister that came down our little creek was only one of at least two. The one that was a quarter mile to the east, following another creek bed, did a lot more significant damage—within a very narrow parameter of maybe fifty or sixty feet. Several massive trees were “skinned” and/or splintered; a nearby mega congregation had its church marquee sucked out from the back and an oak tree, maybe ten or twelve feet around, was bent over, blocking the entrance to its parking lot. . . . Sort of makes you wonder if there was a divine message there.
This photo was taken at the corner of my street where it intersects the street immediately to our east. The row of tall trees along the right side of the photo is on the side of the creek bed opposite our house; this is about fifty yards from our front yard. If you want to see the path of tornado, notice the lamp post just to the left of my neighbor’s house (in the picture below, you can see that the lid of the lamp post has been opened; tornadoes do some strange stuff). Just above the top of the lamp post you’ll see a hunk missing from their river birch tree; those limbs aren’t really missing, they just got folded down. Then to the right side of the photo, you can see the lighter color of the turned-down leaves of saplings. The funnel cloud went in close proximity to this path. No other foliage in the area was impacted except for the upper limbs of the poplars and sycamores, the tallest trees along the creek.
As we neighbors put our heads together on Wednesday morning, we began to realize how lucky we all were. The two twisters bracketed our fifty-six house development and, so far as we know at this point, caused no structural damage to any dwelling. As for me, I wondered if there was maybe a divine message as well—since the twister was literally less than 100 feet from the room where I was working. In retrospect, I think there is a message that for me: royalties! I need to get my authors’ royalty checks in the mail before something really bad happens. –Mike Simpson