So I finished my meeting with my friends from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at our offices Monday about 2 p.m. We had sent our staff home at noon because of the certainty of strong storms later that afternoon.
I said goodbye to my friends and they headed back to the Marriott Courtyard to wait out any storms until their dinner plans at 6 with someone else. Me, I started home wanting to let our silver lab out of the garage for a few minutes before the rain and wind arrived.
I first heard about Monday being a high probability for tornadoes in Northeast Mississippi on Saturday. Someone said it could be as bad as April 27, 2011. That was the day Smithville and Tuscaloosa were devastated by F5 and F4 tornadoes, respectively. We all remember that day. It was a record-setting day for number of confirmed tornadoes (348) in the United States by the National Weather Service.
But being told about the potential for Monday to be like that got my attention because just like this prediction, the same prediction was made three years ago a couple of days before it happened. And it came to pass. Evidently, there is some way now for meteorologists to know when and where a tornado is going to hit within a relatively few miles’ radius.
When I stopped at a convenience store just north of Tupelo about 2:15 the guy paying in front of me was commenting to the clerk that he has just left the mall area and saw three storm chaser trucks.
“They must know something we don’t know,” he said.
“Yeah, that is the same thing the Weather Channel did three years ago,” I responded. “They camped out here for couple of days. And sure enough the tornado hit Smithville.”
I was at home 15 minutes from where the storm went through when, like many of you reading this, I got a text from a friend saying: “Tornado on the ground in Tupelo!”
When you get a text like this, which obviously is rare, you consider the credibility of the person who sends it don’t you? And the three words in the middle of this text made all the difference in my reaction. When I read the words “on the ground” I had a lump in my throat and my heartbeat increased. I began to worry. I immediately thought of Mike and Debbie at the Marriott Courtyard, not knowing where in Tupelo the tornado was “on the ground.” I texted Debbie this message at 2:52: “Are you in a safe place?” Her response came back to me: “Our hotel got hit. We are in the lobby on the floor. Cars overturned. Hit hard.” Then a second text seconds later which read: “We are OK right now … Are you?”
Debbie had just received “Take cover now!” alert on her phone moments before the tornado struck. She and Mike ran down from the second floor and hid under a desk in the lobby and seconds later all hell broke loose with debris and glass flying everywhere. Amazingly, no one in the hotel was injured.
It took me about three hours to get to a place where I could walk to them and then walk them back to my van amidst all the carnage, get them a rental car, and on the road to Memphis. Their rental car was totaled. They followed me out of town on Cliff Gookin Boulevard and as we approached Thomas Street I saw a funnel shaped cloud ahead of us well up in the sky. Not knowing what I should do, I pulled over and told Mike and Debbie why I stopped. You can imagine the look on their faces. The funnel cloud quickly disappeared and we continued on our way. Mike later said they felt like they were living out the movie “Twister.”
Like so many of you, I just want to thank God that we suffered no loss of life in Tupelo. We could have just as easily be seeing many funeral processions around Northeast Mississippi today. Sadly, several people were killed in Louisville by a tornado not long after the one past through Tupelo. Let’s remember those families in our prayers today.
Community columnist Tim Wildmon is a Lee County resident. He is president of the American Family Association, but the column represents his personal opinion unless otherwise noted. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.