Tag Archives: tornado

Has Anybody Seen Toto, by Mike Simpson

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.

The East Side of Our House Smith Branch Creek Is About 15 Feet Further to the Left

The East Side of Our House
Smith Branch Creek Is About 15 Feet Further to the Left

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.

A Sycamore Limb with Telltale Twisted Break

A Sycamore Limb with Telltale Twisted Break

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.

Want to Know the Tornado’s Path?

Want to Know the Tornado’s Path?

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

The Tornado Opened the Top of the Lamp Post And Flew Above the Houses in the Background

The Tornado Opened the Top of the Lamp Post
And Flew Above the Houses in the Background


Filed under life, Mike Simpson, writing

Tornado in Cullman

The title of this article would make for a good TV movie, but this is real life in a small Alabama town. I’ve been somewhat trapped here for going on five days now. Founded by John G. Cullman in 1873, an EF4 tornado slammed the area April 27th. Two souls were lost.

As of this morning, 655 homes and 87 businesses are completely destroyed. According to the May 5th edition of The Cullman Times, 30 additional buildings have been red tagged to be razed. Work crews have removed more than 1,272 loads of foliage and debris form the city due to this early summer storm.

I’m accustomed to making up my own dialogue—occasionally “stealing” an overheard line from time to time, but the words that have been uttered to me in my short time here is not conjured from my imagination. Words such as:

Amusing: “The cable is out! No TV ’till don’t know when.”

Overheard sadness at Cracker Barrel: “It got our house,” an older man said, wounds dotting his entire face, eyeglasses askew on his nose. The cashier asked if he and his wife were okay. The man replied, “She’s out now.” (of the hospital I can only assume.) When the woman told him to take care, he said, “You should have seen me yesterday.” He gave her a little smile, took up his to-go order bag and limped away.

Heartbreaking: “My house is gone. Everything. Gone.”

A little scary: “I’m sorry, y’all but we’re closed, ’cause of the curfew and all.” I thought, Curfew! Huh? Is this a war zone? Nearly. As we made a slow crawl into downtown two Chinook helicopters flew overhead. Platoons of National Guard were stationed at every intersection in town, Humvies blocking the edge of ground zero where the tornado hit the Historical District featuring buildings over 100 years old.

Above and below is what’s left of the Little Bit of Everything building, 100 years old this year, initially the Fuller Brothers Ford Motor dealership. You can see the original wood where the brick façade literally dropped from the outside walls, steel I-beams bent from the force of destruction.

Here’s a link to more photographs of the tornado’s destruction.

I don’t believe there’s ever been a tornado where I live in the Phoenix, Arizonaarea and I didn’t know what to expect. When we arrived in Cullman we were fortunate to find a hotel room, but could only book lodging on a night by night basis as they needed to free up space for workers making the town safe and getting services back up and running.

Personnel have temporarily relocated in order to get the town up and running again. I spoke with a Verizon worker in town from Atlanta, Georgia, and an AT&T electrician from Miami who said his company sent workers from all over Florida to raise new poles and string fresh power lines.

Two ladies showed me last Sunday’s paper which featured aerial, wide angle photographs. “See that big old pile of bricks. That’s our church.” Then she pointed a shaking finger at another picture, nothing discernable but the street and sidewalks lining an intersection—nothing but bricks, wood and twisted metal, as if the business had imploded where they once stood. “And that picture there . . . right there on the corner is where I had lunch not more than fifteen minutes before the tornado came through.”

Although worries now include looting and price gouging, the residents and business owners of Cullman are focusing on lending neighbors a hand. They will rebuild their homes, cafés and places of worship, fill their shops with new goods to trade.

I won’t forget the devastation witnessed first hand; the unidentifiable smells hanging in the downtown air; the stunned people walking aimlessly, heads shaking to and fro, pointing at what was once there.

Residents of Cullman won’t soon forget the April 2011 tornado, the unfortunate reason that brought folks from all over southeastern states to lend a hand.

As with every small southern town I’ve ever had the privilege to visit, these strong willed people are filled with kindness, merely grateful to have survived—all ready to move forward, their relationships and faith stronger, resilience intact.

Deborah J Ledford’s latest novel SNARE, The Hillerman Sky Award Finalist, is book two of her Deputy Hawk/Inola Walela thriller series. STACCATO, book one of the serial, is also available. Both novels are published by Second Wind Publishing.


Filed under writing