My Family Went Through a Tornado

I love storms, as a teenager especially. Like most teenagers, I had this “Nothing can kill me” mentality. I’d get my camera and start filming (yes, filming) whenever a storm came through. Then I’d ride my bike through the aftermath and collect hail to keep in the freezer and yell at my mother when I discovered she’d thrown it out. 

When I was 17, I attended a storm spotting class by SkyWarn at Eastern Michigan University. It was a full day of lectures, and by the end of that day, I had a full notebook of knowledge, plus two storm-spotting guidebooks and a bumper sticker. Everyone who attended received an official license so that when they spotted dangerous weather, they could call it in with authority – everyone, that is, except me, since I was still a minor for two more weeks. 

Since then, I have seen a few funnel clouds (tornadoes that have not touched down). I’ve been through storms with bad straight-line winds. When I lived in Fort Wayne, I experienced a derecho, which was incredibly scary and resulted in about half the trees coming down. 

I have been through one storm in which I suspect there was a tornado a few months after I had been married. That year, 2010 was a stormy summer. I was driving on the expressway, on my way home from working at a daycare. I could see the storm approaching, and I quickly looked for an exit. The next thing I knew, the wind was roaring like a machine hunting me down. It was so loud that it hurt my ears. I took shelter in a gas station until the storm passed.  

Yesterday, I knew there were storms in Michigan. My phone had been sending me thunderstorm watches all day for my parents’ area. I was busy doing research for an article I am writing, and only half paid attention to the radar. My night wore on. I couldn’t sleep, so I continued researching. Around midnight, I saw my parents’ neighbor post on Facebook, “A tornado came through our neighborhood. We’re all okay.” 

There is one feeling in the world that is worse than any other I have experienced. It’s worse than realizing your house is damaged. It’s worse than knowing you don’t have money for clothes or groceries. The worst feeling I have felt, is wondering if your loved ones are alive and well. 

Quickly, with shaking hands, I commented on my neighbor’s status, “Have you talked to my family? Are they okay?”

Being as it was midnight, I knew it was already 1am back in Michigan. Should I call my parents? I just knew I would wake them from much-needed sleep after a stressful day. But I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t have reached me if they had been okay. Just as I was about to call, my neighbor responded. “Your sister, her husband, your parents, and all the dogs were together during the storm. They’re okay. There’s a lot of damage, but we’ll know more when it’s light.” 

The relief I felt in that moment is indescribable. My mom, dad, sister, and her husband were all alive; they were all well. 

Once the relief faded, the questions settled in. What is the damage? How bad? Is the house okay? Are the cars still there? Are there live wires? Gas leaks? These thoughts swam through my mind the entire night. 

I’ve had these thoughts before. They plagued me that first night after the furnace explosion. I was only 12, and after we had escaped our smoking house, we spent the night at my grandma’s, about an hour away. That was the longest night of my life. I kept picturing our house collapsing. I didn’t know the extent of the damage. I didn’t know what I would find in the daylight. 

I was able to call my sister and then my mom this morning. My sister said it was the scariest moment. She was outside, loading the car, and then the wind came. There was no warning. There were no sirens. There was barely time to get inside the house, let alone the basement. Her husband ran outside to get their German Shepherd and their Doberman/Shepherd out of the car. My sister saw trash cans in the air, but could not see her husband. She thought he was gone. Their ears popped from the pressure change. Debris began getting sucked straight up into the sky. Suddenly, her husband ran into the house. And then it was over. I wish I had been there. I would have recognized the severity of the storm. I would have gotten them to the basement in time. I just wish I had been with my family while they were so scared. I can’t imagine the emotions my sister felt when she was worried for her husband’s life. 

Now that I know they are okay, I think about how crazy it is that I’ve moved closer and closer to Tornado Alley, but all the severe storms have been back home in southeast Michigan. I missed this storm. I missed the big flooding of Detroit. The storm spotter in me is jealous. Of course, that jealousy can’t overcome the relief I feel for my family’s – and everyone’s – safety. 

There has been no official declaration of a tornado touch down. I have seen pictures of the damage. I have been told by my sister that the trees on one side of the path are laying in one direction, and the trees on the other side of the storm’s path are laying in the other direction. The effect of the ears popping is common with tornadoes. The fact that there was damage to brick homes also makes me think a tornado touched down. 

One thing is for sure, the damage is incredible from such a small and fast storm. Everything can change in an instant. 

One thing is even more sure: Love your families and friends. Never take them for granted. Tell them you love them as often as you can. Cherish them. Thank God for them every day. 

^ The big Oak tree in our yard. I used to plant impatiens around that tree every spring. 

^ Trees down in their yard

^ Neighbor’s fence down

^ Neighbor’s trees down

^ Damage to trees 

Damage to my parents’ pool

^Damage to my parents’ shed. 

^ Damage to the house

^ Damage to neighbors’ houses v


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