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!
Close Encounters of a Third Kind with Tornadoes
(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.
(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!
(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?
(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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