I love Sunday mornings. There's no place I have to be, nothing pressing that has to be accomplished. So this past Sunday morning, I was all piled up on the sofa playing on the computer. It was supposed to rain that day. I knew about it because I've got this application on the computer called Weather Bug that alerts me whenever there's something going on.
If there's a weather alert, Weather Bug lets me know by chirping like a cricket. I love the music of crickets. It's peaceful and pretty and reminds me of summer evenings sleeping on the screen porch at Annet's house. My little Weather Bug cricket had been chirping away all morning, and I was thinking how it would be doubly nice, not only having a Sunday morning, but having a nice, rainy Sunday to stay inside and be a bum and listen to the rain on the tin roof at Shantybellum. I'd spent the previous 27 years living in Los Angeles, and the thing I missed more than anything about living in the South was rain and thunder and the smell of ozone in the air after a cloudburst.
It was about 9:45 a.m., and I was thinking maybe I should get up and see about starting the day when I heard Tommy in the next room.
I peeked around the corner to see what was wrong. He was staring out the window towards the bluff. I looked to see what he was looking at and had a very distinct this-does-not-compute moment. I couldn't see anything outside. Nothing. It was as dark as I've ever seen it, even in the middle of the night. Suddenly, we were enveloped in a deafening roar. Rain was blowing down in sheets. Thunder was intense and constant. Then the hail arrived, ranging in size from marbles to ping pong balls. And the air turned a strange shade of green.
I've heard about green skies. They usually signal a tornado and/or hail. I dashed into the bathroom, the only room in the house without a window, and jumped into the tub.
"Wow," said Tommy. "I can't believe this wind. You should see the front-porch swing. It's sticking straight out...."
"Get away from the window," I shouted, "and get in here!"
Men. Here we are, about to die and all he wants to do is stand and look at how cool the storm is.
Finally the spell was broken and he came back into the bathroom with me and we waited. The noise was incredible. In a couple of seconds, the lights went out. We sat in the dark and listened to the roar of hail on tin and thunder and wind. After only a few minutes, though, it quieted down. Gingerly, we emerged from our shelter to look outside. Green had given way to a strange sort of amber. Water seeped in under the front door. I opened it to look outside and a pile of hail collapsed inward. Leaves were plastered against the house. The streets were completely covered in tattered leaves and hail.
After awhile the phone rang. It was a friend of Tommy's up in Indianola who had heard about the storm. Trees were down all over town. I grabbed my keys to check Annet's house on the bluff. Everything seemed okay from the front, so I decided to drive down the alley in back to see what was what in the backyard.
That's when I noticed the Foley's house, directly behind Annet's. We had been neighbors of the Foleys when I was growing up on Linton Avenue. We played with their children, and Glen, who spent many weekends with us at our cabin in the woods, still comes to see my dad when he's in town. Like my own parents, Glen's parents are growing old. My father's muscled frame and the strength that had awed Glen as a child has given way to the atrophy of aging, and the parents who were our heroes are now fragile and fallible.
A huge tree had blown down, taking out the back of their kitchen and crushing the carport with the two cars in it.
I went to the door and rang the bell. Mrs. Foley's shellshocked visage peered out. She looked very small.
"Hi, Mrs. Foley. I'm Elodie Pritchartt. Are y'all okay?"
"We're all right," she said. "But come see my kitchen."
The tree had come through the back of the kitchen, which was where she and Mr. Foley had been standing.
"I saw it coming through the window and I dove underneath the table," she said, "and yelled for Bob to run. I was under the table and could feel hail hitting my back."
I can't imagine how frightened she must have been. Fortunately neither of them was hurt. It will be quite a job removing the fallen tree.
I'd heard of straight-line winds, and that's what this storm seemed to indicate, at least to me. The trees down all over town seemed to have been shoved, not twisted, and all in the same direction. On Monday, I saw the following item in the paper:
INTENSE DOWNBURST IN ADAMS COUNTY MS...
TIME OF EVENT: 945 AM 5/3/09
RATING: WINDS 80-90 MPH
SUMMARY OF DAMAGES:
INTENSE DOWNBURST WINDS ASSOCIATED WITH A LARGE BOWING LINE OF
SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS IMPACTED MUCH OF THE CITY OF NATCHEZ. HUNDREDS
OF TREES, BOTH HARDWOOD AND SOFTWOODS, WERE SNAPPED AND UPROOTED
ALONG WITH HUNDREDS OF LIMBS. TREES FELL ON AT LEAST 41 STRUCTURES
INCLUDING HOMES AND OUTBUILDINGS, CAUSING MAJOR OR MINOR DAMAGE.
MANY POWERLINES WERE SNAPPED BY THE WINDS OR TREES/LIMBS FALLING ON
THEM. THE DAMAGE WAS SCATTERED OVER A LARGE AREA AND MORE INDICATIVE
OF STRAIGHT LINE WINDS.
It's now Wednesday, and although we got our electricity back by about 7:30 that evening, my father still has none. Several main thoroughfares through town remained closed yesterday while crews continue to removed debris and repair electric lines.
My friend Courtney Taylor called yesterday to say that our friend Sessions Hootsell had a funny story about the storm. His housekeeper had been at church when the storm hit, and was outside cooking chicken on several small, portable Coleman barbeque grills. When the wind came through, the grills lifted up and levitated in the air. Then the chicken levitated, too. Then, whoosh!
"Chickens flying! Chickens flying!" she was reported to have screamed. Well, I'd have screamed, too. I wasn't even outside, but I was ascared aplenty, and if a plucked chicken had come sailing through the house, crying, "The sky is falling," I'd have taken its word for it.
*photos and post by Elodie Pritchartt