Everyone has seen either pictures or in person the devastataion that was wreaked north of Nashville by the tornadic activity of last week. All our hearts go out to the families of people who have lost friends, relatives or property. I’ve been thinking about it and I’ve come to a disturbing conclusion…I think it may have been my fault.
You see, I was out of town when it happened. I was also out of town when the tornados hit downtown and east Nashville on April 16, 1998. In both cases, the circumstances were eerily similar. Maybe I’m the opposite of a carrier. Bad stuff happens while I’m gone.
Not everyone remembers that the morning of 4/16/98 was a bad one. It was one of those days where the weathercasters were on edge during the early morning news shows. You can tell when they know it’s gonna be a frantic day, and I think they make it worse with more coffee. All three stations had just installed their new radars that track activity al the way down to the town, neighborhood and street. I know it’s a useful part of the early warning system, but it’s really disturbing to hear them say something like, “If you live on Possum Trot Holler in Bugtussle, TN you need to take shelter immediately,” like they know the neighborhood intimately. I don’t think wild turkeys get WSMV.
The waves of bad thunderstorms began to sweep east around 6:00 am as I got out of the shower. I had a full day of calls planned in Memphis and then a three day convention stretching through the weekend. It’s normally about a 3 1/2 hour drive west to Memphis, so I had planned to leave about 7:00. But then they started noticing tornadic activity all along the storm front. It looked like there were 3-4 separate bands screaming across the state at 70 MPH.
So what did your intrepid dumbass blogger decide? “Well, if I wait it out, it’s going to take a couple of hours for all these systems to blow through Nashville. But if they’re heading east at 70 MPH and I’m heading west at 75 MPH, I’ll really only be in contact them for a little bit. Besides, what are the odds that anything really bad will happen exactly where I am with a relative velocity to the front of 145 MPH?” Overthinking can be a very dangerous thing.
So westward I headed. About 20 miles out of town, the Bob and Tom Show was interrupted by the grating shriek of the Emergency Broadcasting System. The completely discomforting voice of the EBS related that a tornado had touched down at Interstate 40 at mile marker 180. Well, if it hadn’t been raining sideways with hail and sleet bouncing off of my windshield, maybe I could have seen a mile marker. When I did, I noticed it was 182. “Uh oh, that’s not good.”
Sticking to my original flawed logic, I plugged west, but my plan of 75 MPH was impossible since I couldn’t see past my hood. Can you say sitting duck? Luckily, the tornado actually hit 1/4 mile from the interstate and then picked up and retreated into the superstorm. My 3 1/2 hour trip actually took about 5 hours.
When I got to Memphis, it was actually kind of a pretty day. The sun was out and every bit of moisture had been sucked from the air, spun around at 150 MPH and blasted against my truck several hours before. My Tahoe did look showroom fresh. I made calls all day with some of my Memphis employees, totally oblivious to what was happening in Nashville.
That afternoon, I checked into the hotel where the convention was being held and went up to my room. As I unpacked my suitcase I flipped on the TV and turned the channel to CNN. Here’s a weather tip for you, if you ever turn on the national news and see your local weatherman standing there being interviewed, that’s not a good thing. Additonally, if you’re ever walking around and you see the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantori walking around with in a blue rain slicker, get the hell out of Dodge.
I sat slack-jawed on the edge of the hotel bed and saw the first scenes of the devestation in downtown Nashville. The first reports were that the tornado had hit near Vanderbilt University. Vandy’s a big place, but I live near Vanderbilt University. I immediately got on the cellphone to call RUABelle and check on her and the animals.
Luckily, I got through on the first call and she hadn’t even noticed that anything had happened. Everybody was fine until I told her to turn on the news. Then we both realized the bullet we had dodged. Then the dumbass in me rose up again and said, “What about the Sportman’s Grille?” Yes, I was concerned about our local watering hole. Unbelievably, she refused to walk down and check on it. I often wonder why someone as level-headed as her sticks with somebody as twisted as me.
Assured that she was ok, I continued watching CNN. The highlight of the coverage was when they got the publisher of the local paper, John Seigenthaler, on the line. As they interviewed him, Seigenthaler reached deep into his bag of poetic literary allusions to describe the wrath of God that had descended upon our burdgeoning metropolis. He painted a picture of the devilish cyclone and the swirling debris with great aplomb. Suddenly, the CNN anchor stopped him and said, “Mr. Seigenthaler, where were you when the storm hit that you could see this in such detail?”
“Why I was standing in my office in front of the big picture window facing toward the west.”
“Don’t you think that was an incredibly stupid thing to do with a tornado coming?”
So it was nice to see that somebody might have been at least close to as stupid as I was that day.
Again, I was totally oblivious to last week’s storms until they were over. I had to hear about them over the phone on a call to the Knucklehead. I missed it. He lived it.
Just a warning to you all. I have to be out of town for about a week starting next Thursday. Hunker down.