But have you ever noticed how the tone of a windchime changes depending on the weather? A breezy Summer day or crisp Fall morning, the tone is bright and happy. For some reason, I picture water droplets falling into a still lake, unrealistically sparkly. But when a storm is coming, the air moves differently, it's warm and wet one second, then chilly and unwelcoming the next. It smells like rain. The sky is ominous and dark, with a yellow tint. The windchime has the same sound, the same pitches, but now the tone is eerie. I always think of that scene in the movie Twister at the very end when the wind is blowing the multitude of windchimes and windspinners in the friend's yard. It's like a warning. And our single windchime, usually so cheerful, plays a somber tune.
That's what it did yesterday. 98% of you know I live in Birmingham, Alabama. The 2% of you who didn't know...I live in Birmingham, Alabama. And yesterday, several, including one monster, tornadoes tore across our state, leaving incredible destruction and loss of life in their wakes.
We woke up at 5:30 yesterday morning to the tornado siren. Well, I woke up to it...David was outside jogging. #1. Who jogs at 5:30 a.m.? and #2. That is dedication. He knew the storms were coming. The first tornado went north of us. Some limbs down, a few power outages that got restored quickly, some property damage. By 8:00 a.m., it was a normal Spring day outside. Mom and a few others called or messaged me about our weather. I was perplexed because the radar showed nothing and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Then, I start reading reports about schools closing down. Birmingham, and the state as a whole, has a tendency to freak out over snow flurries (i.e. everyone hightails it to the grocery store for milk and bread, people board up their homes, families stock up on salt to melt the glacier that their driveway is sure to be after this blizzard passes). Then it snows for an hour, we go outside and play for 30 minutes, the snow melts, and then we're all bummed it didn't snow more. I thought maybe they were freaking out over these "scattered thunderstorms", too.
Then, I thought, that's pretty arrogant and stupid of me to assume that. In February of 2008, my brother Noah was in the Union University campus tornado. The one that completely wiped out the campus, but killed no one. That tornado came out of nowhere, too. So, better be safe than sorry. I called David and he said he was on his way home because his company was closing as well. Hmmm...starting to get a little more serious. Checked the radar again, nothing. I mean...nada. David got home, I finished work. I walked outside...it was humid and gray. There were a few patches of sunshine. Nothing major. Then, a cold gust of wind snapped my pants around my legs. The tornado siren started up again. We turned on the TV and found James Spann, THE ULTIMATE WEATHERMAN. I've met him a few times in person and he's just as intense there as he is in front of the green screen talking about cold fronts. He kept saying things like, "Never in my career have I seen such perfect weather for tornadic activity." Incredibly reassuring.
There were no weather reports for Birmingham...all of the focus was on what was about to hit Tuscaloosa, a college town 40 minutes east of us. A massive F5 tornado that came out of one of those "scattered thunderstorms." The radar image was terrifying. Being related to Mom, I've learned to recognize storm patterns and when you see that hook, representing circulating winds, you know it's a tornado. The meteorologists switched to a tower came in downtown Tuscaloosa and there it was. A 3/4 mile wide monster. James Spann was speechless, as were the other guys. And it was shredding the outskirts of town. Debris was flying around it like little gnats circling a sweaty headed kid. It was unreal how fast it was moving. Churning and boiling, so angry. Blue and red flashes of light revealed where transformers were being blown. The camera lost power. Spann went back to the radar. The camera came back on. The tornado was directly in front of the screen, directly over the town. One weather guy said, "Are you seeing this? Are you kidding me?!" Spann replied, "That is something you never, ever, ever want to see. This is a once in a career tornado."
They pulled it together and started calling out roads and landmarks that the twisting mass of wind and debris was heading towards. "If you live here, get to safety NOW! Stay off the streets!" The camera went out again and by the time it came back on, the tornado was past the town. You could sense a bit of relief in the weatherman's voice...right before he realized it was still on the ground, wiping out towns, and headed east. Right towards us.
During this time, David was feeding the girls supper while I kept an eye on the TV. Literally seconds after Spann says, "Birmingham, heads up," our power goes out. It's unnerving not knowing where an F5 tornado is. The Weather Channel app on my phone would have to work. Mom called to say that it was, indeed, coming right at us...and it was bigger. Our house isn't huge. We have no basement. The only real interior part is the little hallway between all the bedrooms. And there's a linen closet. Our garage is surrounded by brick and, well, a garage door. We do have a tornado tunnel nearby. But all in all, our house wouldn't stand a chance. I started feeling a little sick to my stomach. My phone was saying the tornado had a path that took it a tad north of us, which was nice to know. But I kept remembering Spann saying, before we lost power, that tornadoes have a bad habit of making right hand turns. Why right? I'm sure it's a textbook weather thing, I dunno. I just knew how big that sucker was and was praying it would miss us. It started getting darker, more yellow outside, more windy. And then it started hailing...not a great sign. The four of us huddled in the hallway. And then...nothing. It missed us. It did go north and it hit downtown Birmingham pretty hard. We found out later that same tornado stayed on the ground for hours and hundreds of miles later...eventually hitting Rome, Georgia. It's been recorded as the worst tornado ever to hit the state. And the worst series of tornadoes and storms in the past 100 years.
We bathed the girls by flashlight and got them ready for bed. They were unaware the power was out. It was fun to run around in the semi-dark apparently. Then, the sirens again. Whaaaaat? Another one?! I checked my phone, down to 10% power at this point, and sure enough...another random little storm coming northeast from the south. This one had a tornado, too. David got his dad on the phone who checked the radar for us. Back to the hallway. I looked to the window from our hall huddle and it was a beautiful golden yellow outside, quickly replaced by grey blue. Then the wind came, then the rain. Sigh. I checked my phone...the tornado hook was south of us. That one missed us, too. Relief!
Radar...nothing. Right as we were putting the girls down for bed, power still out, the passing storm clouds gave way to a rusty red. Red sky at night, sailor's delight. And today is a beautiful day. But I've been looking at pictures of Tuscaloosa and Birmingham...and all of the other places in Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia that were hit by tornados. The last I heard, the death toll was over 100. The pediatric wings of hospitals in the area are flooded with injured children. I know God kept us safe yesterday. I know our house wouldn't have survived that second tornado. I cannot imagine my babies trapped under rubble. It's hard to even think about that. I hurt for families who lost loved ones yesterday. Some people lost everything. Their homes, their belongings, their family pictures. When Noah was in the Union tornado, I remember him saying how lost he felt after he and his friends got out of their building and walked around. There was nothing left. Thankfully, most of Noah's valuable things somehow survived. His antique fiddle, his computer, his camera. His car was totaled. But he was safe. He can't be replaced. A cardboard cutout of Justin Beiber comes close, but not quite the same. (JK, Boog.)
There's a LOT of things I don't understand. I sometimes get angry about situations like this. Like, "Why did this happen?" But, because of my utter imperfection and humanness, I can't see the bigger picture. I'm not supposed to. I have complete faith that God has a plan and purpose. And I'm praying so hard that homes and lives are rebuilt even stronger than before.
And also, we're installing a in-ground storm shelter in the garage. I have a feeling our neighborhood association will have a problem with that as it will mean we have to dig a huge hole in the floor. But, one thing is for sure, I'll tell them right now where they can put their neighborhood ordinances.