Joseph Abbott (faxpaladin) wrote,
Joseph Abbott
faxpaladin

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Tornadoes, memories and gaps

The first time I remember seeing my father crying, I was nine years old. We were living in a trailer house then, out on Spring Street on the edge of Marfa. He had been on the phone in the living room; my mom was on the extension in the guest bedroom/sewing room/office, just off the living room. I think I knew that it was my sister Pat calling from Arkansas, and noticed that the time was unusual -- a bit after 5 p.m. The national news either was about to come on or had just started. Dad put down the phone and broke down sobbing. I don't remember how I found out why -- likely Mom told me some.

The rest I shortly thereafter got from Walter Cronkite.

It was March 29, 1976, and a tornado had just struck my sister's hometown, Cabot, Arkansas, killing five people and demolishing downtown. No one in my family was hurt, Mom had reassured me, and I wondered, then, what had made Dad cry. Much later I found out my sister and her children had not merely seen the tornado but been only feet away -- Pat bodily tossing Brownie Scouts into the shelter of the Second Baptist Church because the air pressure differential was so great they couldn't walk in. My nephews -- ages 3 years and 22 months, respectively -- suffered for years from what would now be called post-traumatic stress disorder, reacting to every thunderstorm that blew up as if they were going to have to run for their lives again.

I'm not sure whether it was some sort of empathy for what they had been through, or fear/respect for anything that could make Dad cry, or just another outgrowth of habitual worrying paranoia -- but I started paying close attention to the weather, and especially to tornadoes.

We didn't get any in or near Marfa while I was there -- the surrounding mountains made a natural stormbreak; we certainly got rain and lightning, but no twisters. (I do wonder -- it only just occurred to me: That was the same year that Mom overrode Dad's objections and bought a house. I suddenly wonder how much her daughter living through a tornado put an edge on Mom's already strong desire not to live in a trailer home...)

Friday night I was alternating between working wire and checking the National Weather Service and Weather Underground websites. I did have a (sort of) work excuse -- if there was a big storm somewhere it could change the Local & Texas section front. We'd had a minor tornado (as much as any tornado can be said to be minor) the previous Friday night/Saturday morning -- several buildings wrecked, no people hurt but two horses from the Baylor University equestrian program killed when their barn was wrecked. That twister had sprung out of nowhere -- no warning, no sirens, no signs on radar (there was some argument for most of that Saturday whether it had actually been a tornado). I don't think there was even a severe-storm warning on the storm. In my part of town it had been a spectacular lightning-and-thunder show, and not much else. I didn't even know there had been a tornado until late on Saturday afternoon or evening when I finally checked the Trib website. This time I was paying more attention.

For most of the evening, though, all the activity was to the west and south of us. It wasn't until 9:25 p.m. that Waco was even included in a watch zone, and the storms were still three counties away.

I'm a bit fuzzy on the timing of what happens next. By 11 -- about the time I got my pages all laid out -- the line of storms had started to reach our area. The storm that was exciting the most attention was to our south and west, in Mills County heading for the western fringe of Fort Hood. The tornado warning for that one was sounded at 10:44 p.m. There was this other storm cell heading our direction from the west, but at first it didn't look as though it would do anything more than rain loudly on us.

I probably left work around 11:15. I remember that there was a lot of lightning. I think I went straight home, not stopping at the grocery store as I often do. When I got home my neighbor was standing on the areaway, smoking; we talked briefly about the weather, then I went inside. The first thing I did was feed the cat, because he was being insistent about it; the second thing was to go into the bedroom to turn off the weather radio, which was still beeping from the tornado watch back at 9:30. The third thing was to power down and unplug the Mac; I don't, usually -- everything's on surge suppressors -- but there had been a lot of lightning...

And I turned on the news. They were going pretty much full bore on that storm to the south, but as I put dinner in the microwave they were starting to pay attention to the storm heading for us. The Channel 25 meteorologist was calling it the second-biggest threat on the radar. By the time dinner was out of the microwave and on the plate it had been promoted.

(I'm looking at the time now, Tuesday morning, considering that I started writing this two hours ago, and thinking the rest of this story will take an hour or more to write and I really need to get to bed now. So I'm going to put a to-be-continued here and resume -- well, probably tomorrow night, to be honest, since there are things I need to tend to before work tomorrow.)
Tags: 5/06 tornado, weather
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