Why I Need a Storm Cellar and Don’t Have One.

There was a big summer storm brewing. It was a bit early in the year for such a thing but i had been through plenty of them last august and i figured it would be more of the same. Whirlwind storms developed out of thin air on the radar and built and built until they were violent and menacing. High winds thrashed trees about, they dumped loads of water in short periods of time, overwhelming creeks and low water crossings, and there was usually hail and maybe a power outage just to throw the a/c and refrigerator out of whack.

The last storm i had endured had left me without power for 6 hours and the one before that fried my electric fence and required an electrician to remedy the absence of power to the back of the house. I figured my biggest worry would be lightening. Since my property was at the top of a hill, lightening was a problem rather often and i seemed to have more than my fair share of electric incidents during storms. However, i was wrong. Lightening would not prove to be my biggest problem during this particular storm.

I saw it building on the radar long before it became visible in the sky, making its approach from the north. It started as a little dot of red surrounded by yellow and then green. That dot stretched and morphed. Then more dots appeared. Circles of red cropped up everywhere as green turned to yellow. Then each red blob developed a little purple circle at the center of it. That is when i began to see and hear the storm approaching outside. At first i was worried for a friend of mine that lived one town over because it appeared they were being hammered by the storm. I reached out to her to see how she was weathering the storm and make sure she knew more was headed her way and to hunker down and avoid driving. I then realized that i was in the direct path of the storms cropping up behind the one that was dumping buckets on my friend’s homestead one town over. I checked the radar again. Two pockets of purple were coming straight for us. I peered out the window. It did not look good. Something ominous and black was brewing to the north and moving fast by the looks of it. The black clouds spit jagged edged slivers of blinding light that traveled across the sky and sometimes to the ground. There was a distant low grumble each time one flashed across the sky. I thought to myself, “This is not good.” She was a mean one. I could tell. Usually i liked to stand on the porch and read the weather, take pictures, watch for lightening-sparked fires, and collect any hail that fell for examination. I could tell by looking at her, even from afar at this point, that it would not be one of those storms in which any of that was possible. It would command a deeper respect and there would be no photo opportunities or hail examination time. When i saw her building in the distance i hurried about the yard, running this way and that, struggling to get all the chores done before she arrived amidst a chorus of distant thunder. After i was finished with the chores i collected well water for the night, did all the cooking i was going to do in case the stove went out in the storm, and took an apple out of the refrigerator and set it on the counter in case the power went out and i needed to refrain from opening the door. When both the dogs had been out, the chickens had been given their june bugs and zucchini for the night, the rain collection tub was placed securely in the yard, the car was parked underneath the oak-tree “carport”, and the chores were done i said “okay, now it can rain.”

As i stepped out onto the porch my toes curled and the hairs on my arms immediately stood on end. something terrible was brewing. The air felt different. I don’t know exactly how to describe it. I knew there was a tornado before anyone told me it was there. I could feel it.

The temperature had dropped 20 degrees in 1 hour. Before the storm approached it was nearly 100 outside. It was still warm and humid but now an icy wind blew. I didn’t know what to make of the contradicting sensations. It was sticky and humid, with a chilly wind. That was bad. Blackness descended on the yard. It was as if someone had pinched out the sun instantaneously. One minute evening rays streamed through the curtains. The next, everything went dark. The wind whipped the tree branches around outside. I began moving things out from under the bed. I knew, we needed some place to go. Living in a tiny house, there just wasnt any structure or room for me to go to in the event of a tornado but it was coming…it was here. I shoved photo albums, light bulbs, bags of rice, boxes of oat milk, and bars of soap out from under the bed. The wind was coming under the door now. It was eerily cold and persistent. I needed to hurry. I kept shoveling until supplies littered the floor and there was a space cleared out under half of the day bed. I opened the crate doors and the dogs ran out. Cashew paced the floor. I grabbed Sili and threw her under the bed. She didn’t want to go. She resisted and clawed at the floor as i struggled to shove her in. I pushed her hard and she slid under the bed towards the wall. I turned for Cashew. I could see the sky had gone from black to a strange blackish green outside. It looked like something out of a movie. Low clouds hung beneath the others and lightening split the sky. The wind picked up and began to seep through the edges of the doors and windows. I could feel it from where i crouched. I grabbed at Cashew but she wriggled away. She was frantically pacing the house. Thunder shook the ground. The cold air hit my arm and the hairs stood on end once again. I looked at Sili waiting for me underneath the bed. I couldn’t spend any more time on this. She was here. Sili knew it, i knew it. Cashew would have to fend for herself. I slid underneath the bed and sandwiched Sili between my body and the wall.

Sili tucked her head into my armpit and pressed against me. She was scared. I tried to pat her reassuringly but my focus was on Cashew, my wild child, pacing the empty living room amongst the debris of supplies while the air coming through the door swayed the curtains. There was a large clap of thunder. It scared her and she buckled next to the bed. I saw my opportunity, reached out, and grabbed a fistful of fur. In one swift motion i dragged her under the bed, still flipping and flailing her legs about. I pulled her to my body and held her down. She kicked and jabbed me in the ribs. I didn’t let go. The wind whipped through the house, moving the curtains, and the rain began to fall. I could feel the floor boards vibrating against my skin. I laid my ear to the ground. A quiet grinding rumble filled my head. I reached around Cashew, pulling at bags of rice, trying to build a wall around us, in case the windows shattered and we needed protection from shards of flying glass. Cashew took the opportunity to bolt and i let go of the rice to grab a fistful of fur again. I held her with an iron grip, pressing her against my torso, letting go only briefly to pull bags of rice around us one at a time. When i’d blocked everything but my legs with rice i laid still and held the dogs.

My phone made a noise. I had stuffed it in my waistband when trying to get the dogs under the bed and now i began squirming about, trying to fish it forwards for me to see who it was. My coworkers in town were on a text thread talking about the storm. Some of them had emergency weather radios and were updating the group on the existence and whereabouts of several tornados. There were two in town. My heart dropped through my feet as i read the words. There was a tornado down the street from our location. I realized that was probably what i was hearing in the floor boards. I put my ear to the ground once more. The noise was gone. There was a tornado five miles from us headed our way. My neighbor was on the text thread and notified me that she’d loaded the kids and the dogs in the car and they’d driven out of town when they’d seen it coming. They were waiting underneath a bank drive-through in a neighboring city to see what the storm did. This was a normal response for someone living in a mobile home. We didn’t have foundations or bathtubs. If a tornado hit a mobile home or a tiny house, there would be nothing left. Throwing the dogs under the day bed was a last ditch effort when i realized what i was looking at and it was too late to get out. I called my mother and told her i loved her, just in case. You don’t want to leave things unsaid if its your time to go. Then i laid under the bed behind the bags of rice, coated in a year’s worth of dust, probably covered in chiggers from the dogs by now and clung to the dogs, to provide Sili comfort and security and to keep Cashew in place. My mother and my coworker occasionally sent updates on the strength and movements of the tornados but cell reception was hit or miss and i was having trouble sending and receiving texts. I held the dogs in the dark under the day bed as the storm raged on for hours, one after another red blip surrounding purple rotation on the radar cropped up in junction, fredericksburg, kerrville, medina, and in our town, up the street from us. It was a cluster **** of tornados. She was a mean storm, not to be toyed with. I laid there clinging to the dogs on my sore ribs against the wood floor and prayed for hours, “Dear Lord, please protect us from this storm. In Jesus name i pray, amen. Dear Lord….”.

God answered my prayer. we lived and the property was undamaged. I wouldn’t see the level of devastation until the following day with the coming of daylight. It wouldn’t be until then that i realized just how blessed we were to have survived. In our little town a tornado lifted the roof off the gas station. In Kerrville they had endured biblical amounts of hail and roofs were destroyed, shingles and roof panels laying all over the ground, windows busted out and shattered, there were trees that didn’t have a single leaf left on them. There was a green carpet of shed leaves on every sidewalk and stretch of asphalt. Trees and tree branches were down everywhere. The power was out. In areas where the tornados had touched down trees were missing their tops. It hit the walmart. I didn’t go look but people told me it picked up the basket returns and threw them out of the parking lot and uprooted trees. Somebody said to me “Walmart looks like a war zone.” In my car my tiny hand soap had exploded. Then the pictures began surfacing. It seemed people in town had been having a worse go of it than me huddled under the bed all night.

Disclaimer: These are not my photos. They were taken by friends and acquaintances. This is all hail.

The following day the weather forecast would predict that another storm capable of much the same would be developing between 1 and 4 pm. Storm chasers arrived in droves, having taken notice of the previous night’s storm and hoping to see more of the same. I hurried to finish my work and then drove like a bat out of **** to beat the black beast in my rearview mirror by seconds as i raced its arrival at my home. Lightening cracked across the sky as i jumped out to chain the gate. I ran the car up on the mulch pile and under the oak trees, gathered my things, hopped out, and ran to the house, black clouds on my heels. It began to rain. I flung the door open, herding the dogs outside and screaming “go potty” over the wind and thunder. Both dogs squatted without fuss and ran back to the house. The chickens, as usual, were standing in the rain like the crazy birds they were. As a huge clap of thunder shook the ground beneath my feet i leapt up the porch steps and twisted the knob, letting the dogs in the house. I didn’t feel that same hair-standing-on-end feeling i had yesterday so for a while we just relaxed in the house and kept an eye on the rain. However, an hour into the storm i began to get uneasy. The dogs seemed antsy. The cold air came through the sides and underneath the door like it had the day before. The sky didn’t look right. The wind picked up, and i had that bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I began pulling things out from under the bed once more. I moved things frantically about. When i got the space cleared enough i shoved Sili in once again, joined her, and called Cashew. It took some yelling and pushing but both dogs finally laid down instead of trying to stand up under the mattress. Again i made a barrier out of bags of rice. I called my mother. She said that there was a tornado on my street, four streets down from my intersecting street. It was set to move right underneath us, just to the south of where we were crouched under the bed. Both mom and i prayed that it wouldn’t move north at all as it rotated. It didn’t. It skirted underneath us so close that had i been outside i probably would have seen it. I went ahead and ordered an emergency weather radio. It was set to arrive in 5 days. I had to do something. This, was too close.

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