“Be Prepared” is NOT Just a Boy Scout Motto; My Personal Tornado Experience

It was a very warm and muggy day, especially since it was late November of 1990.  I was working at a pet supply store.   I was a grossly over qualified store clerk who was working for minimum wage because I was fed up with having to lie to people in the various sales jobs I had worked at the preceding few years.

I went in the store at 1:00 pm to start my 8 hour shift on the floor selling dog food and supplies.  It wasn’t until close to 3:00 that my first customer came in.  The owner and manager and I were all talking to this gentleman about premium dog food.  A tornado watch had been issued earlier and we could hear thunder as we were talking.    

About 3:20 it started storming and at 3:25 the lights went out.  The owner, manager, customer and I all congregated about 6 feet from the front glass window and door to get some light even though it was very dark outside.  I was leaning on a stack of dog food bags talking about the weather when suddenly my ears popped like I was going up or down a hill.

What happened next seemed to take only an instant, but in reality took perhaps 10 seconds.  Suddenly and without any warning whatsoever the front window exploded sending glass everywhere.  Instinctively I dove into the stack of bags for cover.  Then a whoosh of wind tried to suck us all out of the now open area, the roof started caving in and we all screamed.  Then there was silence.  We had just had a tornado hit our building.

As quickly as it came it was over.  I was on the floor with two bags of dog food on top of me.  The others were on the floor with debris covering them.  The customer was bleeding as was the manager from flying glass.  As we staggered to our feet, we looked at each other and tried to figure out what we had just lived through.  Then we looked outside.

About 50 feet from the front door, across the parking lot were our three cars plus the customer’s car.  There was not one window left in any of the four vehicles.  The scene looked as though a huge bomb had exploded in front of the building.  There was glass everywhere along with insulation, plywood, two by fours, siding and more glass.  A huge chunk of rafters had landed on top of my car.  It looked like it had been driven through a war zone along with the other cars. 

I was in a daze.  What are you supposed to do?  There were no cell phones back then.  No land phones worked, there was no electricity.  The temperature was dropping like a rock.  We were all cold, wet, injured and scared.  Finally after about ten minutes the sirens started.  Not only the police and fire trucks, but the tornado sirens sounding their warning just a little late.   Soon we were led to a church about a block away to have injuries looked at and get inside out of the rain and cold wind. 

Sometime around 5:30 a regular customer got through and volunteered to take me home.  There I waited as my poor wife as she tried to find me after hearing about the tornado while at work.  We only had one car, so one of her managers was now driving her around looking for me and finally brought her home.  It was around 7:30 when we both were safely home; alive, but with no car and only one of us now employed.

Why did I tell you this story?  To illustrate a very important point.  That tornado hit with absolutely NO warning other that a “watch”.  There were no sirens to warn us to take shelter.  The only hint we had of what was coming was the electricity went out (due to downed power lines).  The whole thing took place so suddenly and dramatically there was no time to do anything but dive into dog food bags while being sprayed with broken glass.

Those things in life that come with no warning are the most difficult to deal with.  Many natural disasters happen with little advance warning whatsoever.  Once in the middle of the situation it is too late to prepare.  The lesson I learned from that even many years ago was to be much more acutely aware to what is going on with the weather, especially if watches or warnings are issued.

In 1987 I slept through a small tornado that touched down less than a quarter of mile from where I was sleeping.  It really shook me up to awaken on a Sunday morning to destruction so close, and yet I never heard a thing.  But then, just three years later, the same thing happened again.  Let me assure you, it has never happened since, and never will.  Once you live through two tornadoes you make some decisions in your life to be better prepared and much more aware of what is going on.

Now there are provisions safely stored in the basement if we must race down there.  Now there are provisions in the two vehicles in case of a storm or breakdown or road blockage.  Now there are plans made for communication in the event of an emergency and where to go and what to do if various scenarios were to happen.  There is nothing that relegates the strongest person to the state of weakness faster than being unprepared for a disaster.  There is nothing that breeds more confidence than knowing one has done all that is available to do to prepare for a disaster ahead of time.

An ounce of prevention is truly worth its weight in gold.  Please, I urge you to plan now for whatever types of disasters your area is prone to.  Don’t wait until the glass shatters and you are diving into the nearest stack of dog food bags to figure out how to deal with what nature sends your way.  As the Boy Scouts motto says; “Be Prepared”.



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