By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – I didn’t hear Monday’s tornado, but I sure saw that nasty gray monster.
The radar picture looked ominous and radio chatter exploded on the police scanner, when Daily Journal Chief Photographer Thomas Wells drove by the office and picked me up in his battered red Jeep.
We drove up Highway 45 and stopped just north of Highway 78. Vehicles sped by us as we looked to the southwest.
Someone on the scanner reported a tornado touched down at West Main Street and the Natchez Trace. We thought we saw a relatively small funnel cloud hit the ground then go back up.
“No, no,” Thomas said. “To the right.”
It was hard to see at first. We assumed the rain was obscuring it.
But the big mass started moving and so did we. We took the Barnes Crossing exit and parked under the bridge.
Thomas yelled at a woman to get out of her car and under the bridge.
People say a tornado sounds like a train, but I wasn’t close enough to hear it.
But I can report that tornados on TV and in movies get it right: A giant bowl of swirling shades of gray connecting earth to sky and moving at a rate that somehow seemed both fast and slow.
Thomas handed me his phone, so I shot video while he took photographs.
The tornado moved across Highway 45 near the 45/78 interchange. I tracked it until high-speed, horizontal rain rushed in on us.
Those of us assembled under the bridge were never in danger, but I knew – and I’m sure everyone else knew – the potential for tragedy in the tornado’s wake.
I’ll never forget the split trees and busted homes Thomas and I found later when we toured Gloster Street, Bristow Acres and the Joyner neighborhood. As we saw more and more destruction, familiar places no longer matched up with their memory. A type of shock set in.
But the sight of the tornado, itself?
Someone asked me what it was like, and I said “awesome,” which felt like a stupid word to use.
But I didn’t mean it in a slang way.
I meant it as a sense of reverence, fear and wonder. Everyday life was put on dramatic hold while I hid under a concrete bridge and witnessed the true meaning of awesome.
It might be a while before I misuse the word again.