Thursday, June 11, 2009

My Evening With a Freight Train

I've lived in North Texas for almost 14 years. I was here when downtown Fort Worth was decimated by tornadoes about 10 years ago. I've seen hail storms, downpours and dust storms that I never experienced in the Midwest. But I have never experienced what I saw last night.

I left work around 6pm and it took about a half hour to get home. On the radio, I heard that there was a tornado warning for southwest Denton County, which is close enough to my house to create worry. When I got home I immediately pulled up my new flagpole and carried it inside, flags attached. After a quick change of clothes, I grabbed my video camera and went out front to record the approaching storm. The clouds were a mixture of mass and movement. There were reports of rotation, but my video did not capture it before the rain began and I was forced to retire the video camera to the inside.

After gathering my wife, we proceeded back out front to watch the approaching storm. I noticed the movement of low-level clouds running counter to the general direction of the storm, which was heading due east. After closer examination, I saw that the lower-level clouds were moving in a clockwise motion as the general front moved eastward. I watched this rotation while the body of the storm moved in. My wife and I could see debris flying over above the tree-tops: boxes, leaves and who knows what. As we watched the approaching storm, weather sirens began sounding in the distance.

As the debris was flying overhead, the ground wind picked up considerably. The rain was secondary to the wind and only forced us to take refuge within the covered entry way to our house. We pressed against the brick wall as we peered out into the driveway. All of a sudden, the wind took on a different quality and began howling in a way that is most-often described as a "freight train". This occurrence created such a chilling effect that my wife and I both moved into the house, quickly glancing above to see if the rotation was moving downward. Thankfully, it was not.

We moved through the house and proceeded to the back, covered patio area to continue our watch. When we entered the patio, we noticed that our glass-top table was upside down and the chairs that had been situated around it were in the yard to the east, up against the fence. Another table had it's accompanying chairs blown into the hot tub, directly next to the pool. As I looked out into the back yard, our silver oak tree was bent over in a violent dance with the wind. How it didn't shatter at the base, I do not know. I have never seen it whipped about in such frenzy.

The entire ordeal lasted only 30 minutes or so. After the storm began to subside, I remembered that I had bought a weather radio at the store about three weeks previous. It was supposed to turn on automatically at the threat of an approaching storm, but it stood silent (so much for cheap weather radios). I turned it on to hear NOAH weather radio. The monotone voice repeated the same warning: "take cover away from exterior windows to a place at the interior of your dwelling". I thought to myself, "dwelling"? Don't you mean "house"?

By now the main storm had passed over, allowing me to retrieve the potted lime tree that had blown into the pool. I had watched as the tree and pot were pushed by the wind to the shallow end of the pool against its edge. From there I retrieved it and brought it into the patio area. It was still intact, but it will take time to learn if the chlorine from the pool had an impact on it.

By now the wind had completely subsided and the rain was coming down in a tolerable drizzle. I hopped in my truck and embarked on a tour of the surrounding neighborhood. Trees were broken, street lights and fences were down and there was debris cluttering the streets. I drove in a circular pattern from my house to assess the damage. It was primarily in a pattern from west to east, about a half mile north of my house to a mile south. We had been in the path of the most serious part of the storm and the surrounding damage bore that out.

Police cars were blocking traffic where power lines were down and trees had restricted passage. There were chain saws being deployed in yards throughout the area, trying to reclaim cars and streets from toppled trees. I made my way back home and entered the house to my wife lighting candles to offset the approaching darkness. We had lost power the minute the storm enveloped us. The sun peaked out from the clouds. We both grabbed cameras to capture the magnificent sunset that marked the horizon to the west.

I may never forget last night, for I was treated to an experience that had no equal in my life. Fortunately, it was not an experience marked by tragedy and I thank God for that. But it was memorable just the same, because for the first time in my life, I experienced a storm with a freight train.

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