Tuesday afternoon found me sitting in the Corbin Center with members of the Corbin Board of Education.
One minute the outside looked pretty inviting — and in the next minute, you could not see past the bushes in front of the windows of the meeting room.
The storm had landed — and its fury was unleashed on the Tri-County.
As I was driving Whitley County’s roads, I was reminded of a line from the movie, “Twister.”
It was said after Helen Hunt’s character Jo tells one of her crew members, “Dusty — we have debris” — as Bill Paxton’s character Bill drives like a madman around farm machinery crashing into the road from an F-5 tornado he shouts at her, “Debris??!?!?”
It had been a busy day Tuesday, and I had traveled up and down Cumberland Falls Highway and U.S. 25E for various this and thats all day. I was getting tired, but was intently listening to the superintendent explain the financials for the school system.
Once the storm crash-landed on Corbin and the Corbin Center, we could all hear the creaking of the building as high winds ripped their way through the city — I wondered if I was the only one concerned the roof might take off.
But if the Board of Education members were nervous, they didn’t show it — the meeting continued, even when the lights went out.
It was impressive to me, but made me nervous at the same time.
I’ve been through bad weather events — and realize it only takes one second for things to go from bad to worse.
It only took a few seconds for the weather to go from sunny and hot to stormy and rainy.
In Tennessee, it was determined that a small F-0 twister touched down.
In Corbin, a couple sitting in their residence during the storm had a huge maple tree try to make a direct entrance. Other residents experienced the snapping of trees and limbs.
In London, the flea market was significantly damaged and a mother of two children escaped serious injury after a tree slammed into their vehicle while in motion.
Williamsburg and Knox County residents saw the action too — high winds and heavy rain got us all through the Tri-County.
What scares me is the complacency — despite the twister that tore its way through East Bernstadt not so long ago, people were not preparing themselves in case of an emergency.
While I knew the meeting had gone on Tuesday despite the threatening storm, I was actually planning for an escape if the building collapsed or was damaged from a tornado. I was then seeing two of the board members sitting with their backs to the glass windows — which could explode or implode if a tornado had dropped on us. Those two would have at least received several severe slashes from shattered window glass.
We have to realize that the threat of tornadic activity in our area appears to have increased for whatever reason during the last few decades, according to a 2011 graphic from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
And we really should be watchful and prepared.
We can’t slam on the brakes when lightning strikes.
We can’t avoid the wind by closing our eyes.
And we certainly can’t avoid death if we just play around with Mother Nature, instead of getting serious when she makes a house call.
I’ve had several lessons on the awesome power of Mother Nature — but none so fascinating as standing on the shoreline during a tropical storm.
I’m not sure what possessed me that day, but I took the three-hour drive to watch this storm come ashore.
I finally found a public beach — it was hard to see the road from the sand rippling across the asphalt.
When I climbed the stairs to the top overlooking the dunes, the wind that hit me was so strong I nearly toppled over the railing. Rain was falling, but although it was a very light rain, it felt like I was getting hit with gravel.
Walking at an angle, I made my way to the point where the ocean was crashing against the sand. I looked to the sky and could see the tendrils of clouds streaming out in a twisting motion far over the waters. The wind was howling around me, fighting with the roaring ocean waves for attention in my ears.
If it thundered, I never heard it.
A few times the wind gusted high enough to ripple the exposed skin on my arms and face.
I spent more than an hour standing there, then another hour sitting on the stairs over the dunes — the entire scene simply kept me mesmerized.
I got back to the car, and was amused and fascinated by what was across the dashboard inside the car.
A fine film of beach sand had blown its way inside my car, despite the windows being rolled up and the vents closed.
I further understood then that storm-fueled winds are both fascinating and dangerous. Both my arms and face were red and swollen from “sand burn,” where sand had been blown against me with such force I had hundreds of small cuts that resembled road rash.
Tuesday’s storm and the coincidence of the school board’s meeting made me remember something I saw on Facebook. It’s called the “Bodyguard Blanket,” and it was invented by a podiatrist in Oklahoma, according to the article I read. It was designed specifically to protect school students during shootings and tornadoes.
That may be something schools would like to have — and the guy who designed it hopes local companies and investors would be interested in partnering with him to provide these to the school districts, according to the article I read.
Regardless, there is no better protection than knowledge, and understanding what a storm can do could be the difference between a mess — or a tragedy.
John Ross is a staff writer for the Times-Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.