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For God’s Sake . . . don’t drive into a tornado!

For God’s Sake . . . don’t drive into a tornado!


(Photo Above) – In 1998, while returning to my home in Cartersville, GA from a Single Adults Sunday School Class picnic, I slowed down to snap a photo of this tornado that I thought, because of the darkness, was a couple miles away, traveling from left to right high up in the sky.  It actually was in front of the orange colored motel.  The tornado landed directly on top of my car seconds later.  Stay tuned for the rest of the story!

I have literally been inside the funnels of four tornadoes and lived to talk about it!

Perhaps because of a worldwide addiction to Smart Phones,  people are now taking insane risks to get their 40 seconds of fame on Youtube.  As they driving down the highway, they spot a funnel cloud then head straight for it to get a thrill.  This is a crazy trend. Quite a few of those folks have been killed or maimed . . . even professional storm chasers in beefed-up vehicles.  Even more folks have totaled their car and had the living willies scared out of them.  If you have ever actually been tornado victim, you never desire the experience again.  If you have been inside four tornadoes, every time a major thunderstorm front is passing through, you repeatedly access the Doppler radar at TV station websites to look for hooked shaped clouds headed your way!

A professional storm chaser narrowly escaped death, but totaled his van, when this tornado in Oklahoma suddenly changed direction.

Close Encounters of a Third Kind with Tornadoes

I stuck my head outside my tent to photograph this waterspout on the Cumberland River. A minute later the funnel struck our camp. © Photo from the book, The Lord of Cumberland, by Richard L. Thornton

(1)  Cumberland Island, Georgia:  One of my duties while a student intern for Jimmy Carter was legwork associated with the creation of the Cumberland Island National Seashore.   At the end of the internship,  I received permission for two friends and I to sail over to the then uninhabited island.  There was no such thing as a cellular phone then, but we did bring along a marine radio.   Unfortunately, the first night we set our camp only six feet above the tidal river, when there was a seven feet+ tide that night.   Our radio was shorted out and two of our foam plastic food coolers floated away.    After then, we had no clue that a hurricane had shifted its course and was headed up the Atlantic Coast.  The good news is that we were at the least likely location on the Atlantic Coast of the United States to get a direct strike from a hurricane. 

Three nights later,  the hurricane brushed the Georgia Coast, spawning violent thunderstorms, tornadoes and water spouts.  One of the water spouts struck land at our campsite at night.  We only had time to zip up our sleeping bags.  We became conscious the next morning, over a hundred feet from our wrecked campsite.  We were bruised from head to foot, but had no serious injuries.  We would have been drowned, however, if the funnel had thrown us into the nearby tidal river.  Late that afternoon, one of the guys had sailed down the tidal river and become stranded by a violent thunderstorm at the ruins of an old plantation.  We did not see him for several days.  In the meantime, Craig Duvall and I had to live off the land.  We lived on fish trapped in a jetty and wild plants for 10 days before being rescued.  

Our campsite after the tornado – © Photo from the book, The Lord of Cumberland, by Richard L. Thornton

(2) 1998 – Cartersville, Georgia: I took my canoe to a Sunday School Class picnic on Memorial Day Weekend.  There were no forecasts for violent weather went I drove off from Cartersville, GA.  Just as I was returning home and cresting the gap through the Allatoona Mountains, I noticed that the sky was jet black over the city.  As I arrived at Cartersville’s edge, I noticed a funnel cloud about two miles away in the sky.  I slowed my Explorer to snap a picture of it.   The tornado was NOT a couple of miles away.  It was a few hundred feet away and seconds later landed directly on top of my car.  The Mad River Voyager Canoe, securely attached to my car, acted like a wind turbine. The Explorer spun around like a top.  I saw large objects like 55 gallon steel drums whizzing pass the car windows, but fortunately none struck the car.  Afterwards, I was nauseated and then threw up.  Otherwise, I was unhurt and my car was not significantly damaged.  However,  two people in their 20s were killed in a smaller car about 400 feet behind me.   Don’t try this experiment at home or in your car!

Being recessed into the hillside, protected my house from serious damage.

(3) 2009 – Jasper, Georgia (Good Friday):   Only standard thunderstorms were in the forecast.  The sky turned black late in the afternoon, so I checked the WSB website for the forecast.  Several tornadoes had struck Jasper while I had lived there so I was wary of such things.  I was on the phone with a civil engineer in Oklahoma, whose employer was manufacturing the precast concreted components of the Trail of Tears Memorial.  Exactly at 6:30 PM, the beginning of the Jewish Passover, I heard the sound of jet engines. The tornado sirens were not going off, so I was afraid that a plane was about to crash nearby.

Well-l-l . . .  the next thing I knew, tree limbs, garbage cans, you name it . . . began flying past the window of my architecture office within my home at about 110 mph.   The house began moaning and vibrating.  I looked out the window and was astonished to see the inside wall of a tornado funnel.  The house had a reinforced concreted tornado shelter under the carport, but you had to go outside to get in it.  That was stupid on the previous owner’s part.   Being inside a tornado was like swimming in the dirty, soapy water than comes out of a washing machine.  I was inside that funnel for what seemed like an eternity.  It was a huge tornado, but fortunately an EF2.   Definitely, don’t try that experiment at home, alone.

Tree limbs had punctured my roof in several places and five trees were down, but because the house was recessed into the terrain of the hill, it was not structurally .  However, houses and apartments, to the north and south of mine property, were severely damaged or leveled.  They were hit by the edges of the tornado and were on top of the ridge within which my house was snuggled.  The center of the tornado hit my house, but I guess, it was the Passover for me and my three herd dogs.

In September of 2009, it rained 24 inches in five days.  All that water washed down the slopes of the mountainous counties of northern Metro Atlanta and flooded much of the state.  Over 50,000 Georgians were foreclosed upon because their insurance companies would not pay for flood damage.  That just made the Mega-Recession even more hell on earth.  As for me, supposedly by mistake, on the morning of December 21, 2009 I received an eviction notice to be out of my home by Christmas Eve.  For the next nine years and five months, all of my furniture and most of my personal belongings would be in storage.  Talking about a Trail of Tears?

One moment the cabin was rattling – the next second raindrops were falling on my head. Note the insulation in the trees!

(4) March 21, 2017 – The “American Unearthed” Cabin:  This was where the premier of America Unearthed was filmed. It was not a good way to begin springtime.  Again there were no forecasts of especially violent weather, but the wind patterns changed after I went to sleep.  About 1:30 PM the house began shaking and I again heard the sound of a jet plane coming down.   The wind blew so hard that the walls of my bedroom were literally bending over.  I thought at any moment the walls would collapse on me.  Then the shear winds changed into a tornado, which ripped off the roof and blew out windows. The dogs and I again was unscathed, but the house was filled with rainwater and mud that had been dropped by the tornado.   The owner of the cabin did not repair it properly with the insurance check, he was given.  His excuse to me was that he was going to tear the house down as soon as I moved out.  Mold started growing all over the hovel.  Between August 2017 and when I moved out in May 2018,  I personally killed 127 rats.  However, on several occasions snakes killed rats in the walls of the bedroom or in the basement. One time, I also caught a snake in a rat trap in my bedroom.  At night rats would zip across my covers.  I had no bed, so I had to sleep on the floor with the rats, snakes and scorpions.  Have I made my point that tornadoes are not something that you should “play” with? 

The sound that I never want to hear again as long as I live!


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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.



    Richard-a real life Wizard of Oz moment! I will distinctly remember that sound of a rumbling freight train before it took the roof off the house 2 doors down from us! Lucky? Blessed? But most interesting!


    Howdy, From the home of those winds. A couple of thoughts you may already know.
    Ebenesersdottir…DNA study Iceland…NA/Mayan DNA

    Patricia Sutherland…..Tans Field Valley Baffin Island…..early European contact
    Was fired all material seized

    Dorset Harpoon Point found in Derry Ireland

    • Are you kidding me? An Icelander of Native American-Mayan blood. Far out.


        The mtDNA haplogroup in question is in the unique subclade C1e.

        The best minds you will never hear about it from in the media today think it’s Caribbean Tiano.

        The Voyage of Knutson and his “henchmen” for King Magnus VII and the Pope to reinstate the Church and King in 1354 found that hundreds of Western Settlement Vikings had already left for Vinland/Venland 200 years before he arrived. I am sure we will be hearing more about this in the coming years.

        • On the map Verazzano’s voyage the Atlantic Coast there are two towns with Scandinavian names in the vicinity of the Georgia Golden Isles. Jag taller Svenska. In 1935, Smithsonian archeologists found bronze and iron weapons and tools at the mouth of the Altamaha. They were on display at a state park museum for many years. NOW the state people are refusing to cooperate with Ed Riley and I in our efforts to find out what happened to those artifacts.


            Your instincts as usual are completely condratictory to prevailing thought. And right again.

            The L’Anse aux Meadows Viking site in Newfoundland was radiocarbon dated by charcoal finds to around 1100 AD. It was used sporadically over a short period and then was used no more.

            There was a bog iron foundry there that was making new iron rivets for their clinker built ships. The entire settlement which could house upwards of 100+ men was never a farm. It appears to have been a repair facility and rest stop used to transport the Western Settlement to parts south. In this case those islands you are referring to makes perfect sense.

            It would also explain how Tiano (or even Chontal/Itza Maya) dna ended up back in Iceland.

            Even with those iron artifacts back in the public domain I reckon it would take a team of professional anthropologists at least 10 years to figure this one out. Perhaps never if they read what happened to Patricia Sutherland.

          • There are commercial quality iron ore deposits and the highest quality of anthracite coal in NW Georgia. Both were mined commercially until heavy industry moved outside the United States.


      Wow. Just Wow.

      I thought we were largely immune to this type of political interference here in Canada but I was clearly wrong. Not only did they fire her and remove her access to these artifacts but they also revoked her extremely prominent archeologist husband’s (McGhee) Emeritus status at the same time. Viking artifacts like iron axes have been found scattered throughout the Canadian arctic so I didn’t think this could happen.

      This can only be perceived to be part of a broader attempt to keep free minded ‘renegade’ archeologists in line. Dark times we still live in.


    Howdy, While poking around had a nasty thought.

    Ebeneserdottir…may just be paranoid!!!..

    • Icelandic women traditionally added the name of their father or mother to create their last name. It just means “Daughter of Ebenezer.”


    Hey Richard
    In the early 2000s i was horseback riding on Rich Mountain in Tennessee when a summer thunderstorm came up on top of the group. We had lightning all around, heavy wind gusts and rain so hard it physically hurt. All the horses quickly figured out we were coming off that mountain FAST!!!
    On the way down 1 rider came off their horse to the uphill side( down hill was a couple of hundred feet of wooded mountain side) and was unhurt, one horse had a slight leg injury and the entire group of about 15 were thanking god no one was hurt. Several times all of us felt the hair stand up on our heads and saw the horses hair stand up from lightning. Looking back at this its a wonder no one was hurt being on an exposed mountain top with no shealter and skiddish animals. We all felt the only thing we could do was get off the mountain.
    Believe me i don’t want to do that again!!
    Glad you made it this far in life!


    Howdy, ARE YOU ALRIGHT? I know the dottor/ir my paranioia was the Ebenezer part. Okay….Question have you ever done a full article on tokonhon? Picked up an old NatGeo book on Indians things I would not have thought about years ago now jump out….


    Howdy, My copy of BLOOD AT THE ROOTS came today. I was expecting more info on Creeks.


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