Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Great Tornado Adventure

It is a gorgeous, sunny morning. The birds are singing, my daffodils are blooming, and I'm pretty sure today is the day I'll see the Bradford Pear trees put forth their first blossoms. But when you live in Central Arkansas, spring brings severe weather along with sunshine and flowers and bunny rabbits.

Last night when I went to church, I knew we were in a tornado watch. A tornado watch means conditions are favorable for producing tornadoes--warm, humid, still, with a cold front approaching. I also knew that there were severe thunderstorms to the southwest of us. For those of you who don't live in thunderstorm country, a severe thunderstorm has frequent, dangerous, lightning, strong winds, heavy rain, and often, large hail. Large as in the size of golf balls. Severe thunderstorms are spectacular, and I usually adore them. They are such a clear picture of the power and awesomeness of God. However, I don't get quite as excited about severe thunderstorms during a tornado watch. A severe thunderstorm warning can turn into a tornado warning in the blink of an eye. A tornado warning is issued when forecasters see rotation in the clouds. The technology is incredible.

So anyhoo, I'm the commander for our church's Awana program. On any given Awana night, I usually have about 120-150 kiddos in my care. I have a fantastic group of leaders who work with me, too. So last night at 6:30, I had completed check-in and was putting the computer away when the tornado sirens started blasting. I ran upstairs and got the leaders in action, getting the kids into lines and filing downstairs. We have 2 large, interior hallways that seal off from the outer part of the building. They are perfect for situations like this. All the kids thought it was a tornado drill, and they behaved perfectly. I was so proud! Our pastor's wife led the kids in singing all sorts of fun songs, which drowned out the sirens. When I was sure everyone was situated safely, I headed outside to where a few of our adult guys were watching the storm. One of them is a firefighter, and he was on the radio with his station. There was a tornado on the ground, only about 3 miles away, and it was headed in our direction.

At this point my stomach was in a giant knot. I was so concerned about the safety of all the kiddos, and worried for their parents, who I knew were worried about their kids. And then we saw it. It was patch black outside. The thunder was pretty much constant. No rain was falling, and it was very still. Then as the lightning flashed, I could see a huge column of cloud. I whipped out my cell phone and began recording. Later, I captured still photos from the video I took. Here is what I saw.

At that point I headed back inside and had the kids get in their tuck and cover position. Again, they were perfect and did what they were told. Most of them still thought it was a drill. I'm so glad of that. About 5 minutes later, it had passed on to the north. It took a long time for all the parents to get there. We had a few teary parents, and a few teary kids, but overall, everyone did fine. I'm not going to post the video, because the lightning flashes so quickly that it is hard to see anything. You get a better picture this way.

This morning I found out that when I took the video, this was a wall cloud, and the tornado had lifted up. It touched down again a little later to our north, and did significant damage there. But still, whether the beast was active in the cloud or not, it was very impressive, and very scary. I'm still not totally convinced, though...I'll be interested to see if the specialists declare that it was a tornado after they have examined the damage path.

It took me a while to wind down last night. Can you guess what I dreamed about?


E. Charlotte said...

Spooky! I'm glad all the kids were ok! I was born in Denver, and we experienced tornados often enough. We didn't have a basement so a tornado warning meant Mom scooping up me and my sister and running across the street to the neighbors! Tornado sirens, to this day, make my hair stand on end!

Laura said...

So glad that you are all safe! I am thankful too that you stayed calm in the midst of a crisis to be able to lead the children! Sounds like God was busy last night keeping the tornado from you all.

The Yorks said...

Yikes! Glad you're all safe!

Tara said...

First of all, you have a lot of kids to protect and you did a great job. Secondly, I have been in a tornado's path and it is scary. This picture is amazing and seeing the destruction afterward can leave you speechless. I didn't think about tornadoes starting this early.

Southern Belle said...

Oh my gosh how scary! So glad you are all safe. Hmmm...maybe its a good thing we aren't moving to Arkansas after all.