Wednesday, January 6, 2016


by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

Adventure and danger are fun in fiction. In real life – not. Two weeks ago on the day after Christmas ten to twelve (depending on which weatherman you listen to) tornadoes hit Dallas and its suburbs.

That afternoon had been warm and humid. The Husband and I had indulged in a quick dip in the hot tub, knowing it would probably be the last for a while as cold weather was predicted. We had been in only about a quarter of an hour when it started to rain. Of course we immediately dashed into the house – like we were afraid we’d get wet, huh? – because we knew a big storm was predicted.

We just didn’t know how much of a storm it would be. It rained sporadically but not very hard for a couple of hours, Then, just around dark, chaos began. The Husband turned on the TV because one of our favorite shows was coming on – except it wasn’t. Every local channel was doing a continual broadcast of the weather. Semi-hysterical weathermen were pointing at multi-colored maps and advising us to find safe rooms in our houses. (We don’t have one, except a closet or two – our house is very open and has many many windows.) I must admit that we weren’t alarmed; the local weathermen have a tendency to get hysterical about ‘approaching bad weather’ that turns out to be nothing but a mild thunderstorm. They do have to keep their ratings up.

This time, however, they were spot on. A few minutes later the rain came, and that was really rain, as if someone had pointed a squadron of fire hoses straight down on our house. After less than half a minute the gutters couldn’t handle the volume and simply overflowed, wrapping the house in a dense curtain of water. The tornado siren less than a quarter of a mile away began to wail. It didn’t stop for over half an hour. On the TV the weatherman was pointing to a bright red/pink area of tornadic activity and we were not cheered to see that it was right over our neighborhood. The wind was fierce, blowing the rain almost sideways. I was afraid that it would be as bad as it had been a couple of years ago, when The Husband had been deployed overseas, when a straight line wind blew so hard it stripped the trees, blew the heavy cover right off the hot tub and shaved a bunch of shingles off the roof, but for us at least it wasn’t. This time. We were fortunate enough to suffer no damage other than the loss of a lot of leaves and a few small branches, flooded gutters and a completely drenched property. Thank You, God. There has been an unprecedented aftereffect, though. 2015 was a very wet year for our region. There had been heavy rain both before and several times after the tornadoes stormed through and the ground was saturated. I didn’t realize how wet it was until we opened the scuttlehole to the crawlspace beneath the house – and for the first time in my memory (and I grew up in this house) there was water standing there. Almost an inch of standing water, despite the fact we live on the top of a substantial hill! Amazing – and in its own way frightening.

Some people weren’t so lucky. Less than ten miles away, in the southeastern suburb cities (yes, Dallas is big) tornadoes started striking. A tornado at night is so much more frightening, because it is almost impossible to see. There are some photos of the funnels touching down, at least two taken by the light of things exploding behind it. There were estimates of over 140 homes so completely destroyed they were almost vaporized. One of The Husband’s friends at work had his home so severely damaged they may never be able to go back. I don’t know the final death toll, but it has to be at least a dozen. My heart bleeds for those families whose homes were destroyed and even more for those who lost loved ones. It’s bad enough that anyone should have to suffer such losses, but for it to happen the day after the happiest and most blessed day of the year is adding insult to injury. May God comfort and be with them.

But in every disaster there are spots of unbelievable kindness. Within hours of the disaster volunteer search and rescue teams were out looking for trapped survivors – both human and animal. A vet was offering free boarding for the pets of people whose homes were damaged or destroyed until they could get things together. A storage company offered the storm’s victims a free month of storage for what they could salvage. Ordinary citizens not only pitched in to help search but brought armloads of donations, including gift cards. Texas has always been a can-do, help your neighbor kind of state and this proves it yet again.

Tornadoes are a part of life in this part of the world. I remember a couple of years ago – and The Husband was deployed overseas this time too – I was sitting in my office (also known as the guest bedroom) trying to work. It was a grey, overcast spring day (my favorite kind) and gradually I became aware that the sirens were not only going off, but had been doing so for quite a while. Frankly I was annoyed at the noise, because it made it hard to concentrate. Finally I realized what those sirens meant and, never having been very bright, ran outside to see if I could spot anything. There was nothing visible other than low, thick grey clouds.

That day they say there were nineteen tornadoes dancing through the metroplex area, damaging or destroying all they touched. The best analogy I can offer is that of a heedless two year old stamping merrily around a garden – one foot here, another there, without regard to the helpless flowers underfoot. And don’t feel too safe no matter where you live – meteorologists say tornadoes can occur anywhere in the world, even if over eighty percent happen in the southern central part of the United States.

Yes, tornadoes are part of life in this part of the world, but as a seventh generation Texan I wouldn’t live anywhere else. 


  1. Susan, I can relate to everything you said, but first, I'm so glad you and hubby were safe. A tragedy like a tornado brings together a community and makes us thankful for what we have. Heartfelt condolences to those who lost so much. We went through much the same with Hurricane Katrina, but I always tell people the good that came from it--a bonding of our neighborhood.
    Again, so glad you escape the worse.

  2. Susan--
    I can't imagine what that night must have been like. Thank goodness you and your husband and home were all right. My heart goes out to those who suffered losses. The only silver lining is the people (neighbors and strangers) who come together to help those when they need it most. Take care.

  3. I have never seen or lived through a tornado crisis, but I have experienced three floods from Hurricanes, and you are so right - the community comes together in times of need.

    So many stories out there that can be told.

  4. Wow! Glad you made it through relatively unscathed. Tornadoes are scary things - and so unpredictable.

  5. I remember several, several years ago a tornado passed a block away from our house tearing up several homes and businesses in its path. SCARY. I'm so glad you were spared these. Take care.

  6. Pam's right about it being scary! We get the occasional hurricane which is also miserable. Nothing like Mother Nature!

  7. For a long time I felt lucky just having our hurricanes in New England, and then we started to have the occasional tornado. I think tornadoes are the scariest of storms. Glad you came through the latest all intact.

  8. We don't have many tornadoes in North Carolina, but we do get them occasionally. Being in one of them about fifteen years ago was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. We were lucky too. No one in the family was harmed and we just lost some roof tiles and guttering, a few shutters, and a storage shed in the back yard that was relocated several feet from its foundation. Two blocks further north my neighborhood was decimated.
    I'm very glad to hear you and your husband made it through with minimal damage and no injuries.

  9. What a terrifying experience - and you made it so real and immediate. I was holding my breath as I read. So glad you're okay.

  10. What a vivid account, Susan. I grew up in Tornado Alley (St. Louis) and have seen the aftermath many times, but have never felt the actual effect of a tornado. The closest I've come was when Super Storm Sandy (hate that they named it that) struck our neighborhood in Pa. Agree that facing danger puts things in perpsective and brings out the best of people. Nice post.

  11. Well, while it remains vivid in your mind, write down more details and keep this account as well, so you can use it in a book. That way some good will come of the experience.