I've spent the first half of my life in on the east side of Florida's tornado/hurricane alley ( a/k/a Volusia County).
We were fortunate to survive relatively unscathed the grim May of '79 where no less than 47 touchdowns were reported in a terrible swath of destruction from Tampa Bay to Daytona Beach.
Communications were down - there was no warning.
The skies were a sickly green that day. Suddenly, the rain, hail and thunder ceased as if a switch had been flipped. With an awful foreboding I said, "there's a tornado in the area".
My (then) husband ran to the living room window just in time to see an approaching funnel skimming the tree line, headed straight for us.
We had just purchased a brand new, beautiful mobile home in one of Florida's many luxurious parks. Unfortunately, the amenities did not include a storm shelter. And even if one had been provided, there was no warning - and thus no time - in which to seek it.
With only seconds before the twister was on us, we raced to the back bed room and tightly huddled in a ball. You could feel the change in air pressure. And there followed a mighty roar ...
The hurricane tie-downs held while our home rocked like a ship at sea; the windows blew out - but we didn't know that until after the twister had passed - due to the scream of the storm.
If the twister had been just a tad lower our home would have exploded like so much dry kindling.
Funny thing. This particular twister had actually been low to the ground, yet just happened to rise as it passed above the pine trees that lined the entrance to our park.
Thank you, God.
We survived with bodies & souls intact, but nerves badly shaken.
There proceeded the summer from H.E.L.L.
Thunderstorms, twisters, hurricanes, et al are business-as-usual in the (misnomer) Sun Shine State. But that summer was business as usual to the nth degree. The local weather forecasters & DJ's would joke that one could actually 'set your clock' by the ceaseless regularity of 3:00 p.m. storms that - day after week after month - progress across the state.
I sit here at my keyboard and remember the night of the electrical storm to end all storms. You could smell the ozone as flash upon flash upon flash lit of the night sky like a pinball machine.
I've never seen anything like it before or since, nor do I want to.
Then, a short three months later, category 5 Hurricane David struck the east coast. Every county in Florida was under a tornado warning as well, because - as few people realize - hurricanes carry a double whammy.
With Hurricane David we had plenty of warning, of course. But the odd thing is ... and I remember this very clearly ... the radio issuing updates from the Hurricane Center in Miami Beach, kept continually placing David south of us. Even allowing for the frontal winds which precede a hurricane, we kept getting reports that it was still 'x' miles south when in actuality it had 'arrived'.
I remember when the first ' true winds' struck. I was puzzled because I didn't think David was 'there' yet.
Now, if you've never experienced first hand a category 5 hurricane ...
The winds were so violent, everything that lay beyond the shelter of 4 walls appeared to co-exist in this thrashing, turbulent 'gray zone'. That's all there was.
I didn't think the winds would ever cease, and - having already watched one tornado threaten my home - I was probably more afraid of another one lurking just around the corner, rather than the straight winds of the hurricane itself.
But it didn't matter, because this time I was lovingly sheltered in the brick home of my in-laws. And, to pass the long, frightful hours, we read the Bible and countless issues of Guideposts.
There are no atheists*** in a foxhole ;)
And then there came that magical moment. When the eye of the hurricane was above us!
You really have to see it yourself to fully measure the oddity of the sight, but when the eye passes over (a short window of time) - the winds of the hurricane are stilled because you are in the epicenter of the storm. Then, and only then, can you emerge from your shelter, venture outside, and look straight up in the sky to see this eerie hole - reminds me of a vortex - with wisps of clouds dancing at the edges.
But it's unwise to linger, because - as with most any storm - the south/back (or dirty) side of a storm is the most dangerous. So within minutes of viewing the eye, we hurried back inside to ride out the other half of Hurricane David.
Now, there is a phrase ... 'The Death of Nature'. During the aftermath of Hurricane David and the aforementioned tornado, I learned what was meant by this.
There follows a quietude, a stillness, the utter silence of a thousand myriad sounds one never hears until they are absent. Insects, birds, squirrels, etc ... the multitude of the small creatures who comprise the aural backdrop of our natural world. They have fled before the storm.
This uncanny silence is the loudest sound you will ever hear.
Yesterday, my beloved small town was hit by a severe thunderstorm. Straight winds, lightning and at least one verified (by photo) tornado. As I write this, our town is flooded today with scores of volunteers from neighboring towns along with the Red Cross - who has set up base at our First United Methodist Church.
Currently, I reside in the north mobile home park (I'm seeing a pattern here lol) where thankfully we were spared the brunt of the damage ... especially thankful as we have spent a gruelling 4 months of non-stop home repair projects (which is why my blogging, other writing and numerous projects have been placed on hold) and NOTHING was damaged at my property (a tree is down on a neighbor's home just across the lane, but - once again - God spared us).
But to backtrack to early yesterday afternoon ...
The skies were dark, lowering, and heralded just another typical summer thunderstorm. My bff and I had just finished a run of errands when he dropped me off at my place, anxious to get back to his house to close any open windows before the rain hit.
If there were any weather warnings, and I'm sure there were, we missed 'em as we don't typically have the radio on when we are out gallivanting around.
Anyway. I got inside my newly beautified mobile doll-house, shut the windows, and felt an edge of unease when I noted the 'look' of the clouds scudding heavily and with increasing rapidity across the horizon.
... maybe it's due to having 'been there before' type of thing, but I just had an uncomfortable feeling ...
Within just a few brief minutes of having put my things away, the storm kicked into seriously high gear and I knew we were in for it.
Antsy now, I kept peeking through the front door window as the winds picked up, and picked up, AND picked up further - practically mowing a small stand of trees between the park and the next residential street over.
The rain came down as the floodgates opened and I relaxed a tiny bit, because as long as it's still raining you're okay. It's when everything suddenly 'shuts off' that heralds danger.
THEN came the hail, stronger winds yet, and I was actively praying to God to keep the roof from tearing loose. Meanwhile, the rain mixed with hail was striking my (new) windows with such force it sounded like glass breaking.
And that's when I just f.e.l.t. (again) there was a tornado somewhere (aloft? nearby?) in the vicinity.
The skies held a faint, greenish tinge ...
Where DO you 'hide' in a mobile home? The last place I wanted to be was in a home labeled 'mobile' (meaning to able to move).
Basements are good.
Oops. No basement - see the whole mobile thing above. My bad.
THEN the sirens go off, as does the power.
Uh oh ...
In retrospect and with medication, it's kinda funny how we ran around trying to round up our two cats (uncooperative as always), then stop, nervously twitch/spaz out, grab a pillow only to loose a cat, dump everything/living creature into the bathtub and have to start all over again. Picture the Three Stooges minus one.
Here, I have to admit that I grabbed my cigarettes and a lighter because if there was anytime I really, truly needed my crutch at hand ...
Of course, by the time we got ourselves, two disgruntled cats, and a pillow for everyone's head, all properly settled in the bathtub, the sirens stopped.
Again, there are no atheists in a foxhole OR a bathtub during tornado season!
By the time the storm finally passed into the distance, our town looked about like every other tree had exploded.
We were mighty lucky as, to my knowledge, no personal injuries have thus far been reported.
Our amazing, olde-time downtown Square had suffered a hard blow on the south side, like a giant's hand took a swipe at the 100+ year old roof line - bricks and sundry debris lay scattered. The area was immediately cordoned off for safety.
And the surrounding perimeters of town, boasting acres upon acres of tall, healthy corn, had been flattened and laid low in places by the storm. You can almost trace the paths of destruction.
Meanwhile, stately trees have plowed through residential roofs, walls, siding, cars, fences, utility sheds and so forth. Streets are still choked with fallen trees, and everywhere volunteers scurry back and forth carrying load after load after load to the city landfills and burn piles.
It almost looks like a war zone today.
But only 'almost'. Because everyone is safe, neighbors are helping neighbors. Everyone is being checked on, and verified as o.k. Strangers offer lending hands, and our community swells with volunteers. Power is being restored, and the grocery store has re-opened.
No one died.
Today, islands of soft clouds drift across blue skies, and you can hear the birds singing above the sound of chainsaws.
The weather is calling for more storms through the rest of the week.
That's life. That's nature.
Right now, with power restored and my home undamaged, I can enjoy a cold drink from the chilly depths of my refrigerator, a hot shower if I so choose.
It's nice to be able to choose. I hope I don't forget to be thankful for that.
*** I'm not an atheist. I'm an agnostic. However, I still cross myself and remember catechism from my early years of Catholic schooling. Old habits die hard (no pun intended).