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Big Rains are Coming and Remembering the Feb. 5, 2008 tornadoes

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SUMMARY

Clouds will be stubborn to leave today, but hopefully we’ll see some sun peak out this afternoon or evening. These clouds will keep temps cool, so don’t expect much warming today. We are currently 21 degrees, which is only a degree higher than our overnight low. On Tuesday, clouds will increase yet again, ahead of our next big rain maker. Rain, heavy at times, will settle in for Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Expect rainfall totals to range from 1.5-2.5 inches across the plateau, with isolated higher amounts possible. The weather breaks for us on Thursday, before we do the rain dance all over again Friday night and Saturday, when more rainfall, possibly heavy, will move in. There are no indications of any significant wintry weather for the next week to ten days.

DISCUSSION

Today is as much of a holiday for me as my birthday. February 5th will forever be etched in my mind as a day that I’ll never forget. It was the day I saw my first tornado. More on that in a bit.

First, I considered adding a yellow caution to Tuesday night and Wednesday morning because of the heavy rain. I may still add that in the morning, depending on how everything looks with that system in 24 hours. Models have been off-and-on about the precip ending as flurries or light snow Wednesday night. Due to the inconsistency of the model runs I’ll hold off mentioning that any further.

Our next rain system that blows in here Friday night could also have some heavy rain with it. Between these two systems, our rainfall totals for the year ought to really improve.

Remembering February 5th, 2008

I was working for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency in Nashville in 2008 as an Operations Officer. I was also a bit of a weather specialist for them, giving them a heads up when bad weather would be threatening our state.  February 5th was one of those events that looked bad several days out, so that gave many of us in the weather business a lot of time to warn folks. Still, it was the beginning of February and people are very complacent to severe weather this time of year. That cost us a lot of lives this day.

I was scheduled to be off that Tuesday (Feb. 5) so a buddy of mine from WKU and I decided we’d go storm chasing out in West TN, where a high risk for tornadoes was issued. He drove down to Nashville to pick me up and as I was walking to his car I stepped in a big pile of dog crap. Now, anyone else would have been very irritated but I was so excited! My philosophy in life is that for every bad thing that happens to you, something equally as good will happen. I knew, as I stood there in dog poop, that we were going to finally catch us a tornado that day (or, as some of us say, catch us a ‘nader).

I ran back inside to change shoes and we headed west. As we drove toward Jackson, the temperature was rising and the atmosphere was destabilizing. It felt like a tornado day outside. We grabbed lunch at Chik-fil-A (forever a good omen afterwards) and we waited. Now, Jackson is no stranger to tornadoes. They have been hit by 3 F-4s in the past 19 years. I believe in certain areas favoring tornadoes, so that factored into my decision to stay in Jackson.

At some point, I decided we should make a dive for Dyersburg, as it looked like a supercell was headed their way. Never second guess yourself in these situations! Lesson learned. As we got about halfway there that cell started looking weak and other cells around Memphis were really ramping up. We turned around. My buddy Ross was driving as fast as he could to get back to Jackson. “Why on earth didn’t we just stay put in Jackson,” I kept asking myself.

“A large, destructive tornado is on the ground and headed toward Jackson,” the radio screamed.

We were closing in on Jackson but the supercell was moving at up to 70 mph. We got caught in the rainy part of the supercell. My heart was racing. Just to our southwest, and closing in, was a violent tornado.

We made it to Jackson and punched out from underneath the supercell. We were now just south of the storm, which is the best place to be to see a tornado. We quickly got out of the car and starting setting up our equipment. We didn’t have much time. I ran inside to tell the Days Inn folks of what was coming and they immediately ran to their basement. They told us they’d leave the front doors to where they would open for us, should we need to dive for cover.

Suddenly , the lights went out. I think that’s when it “got real.” We knew the tornado had taken down the lines. Then, we heard it. It sounded like 10,000 waterfalls. At first you had to strain to hear it, but soon it became so loud that I couldn’t believe what was happening. Then, the wind hit. The wind was so strong we had our hands on the ground trying to stay balanced. It was coming so fast we were right were we were going to be when the tornado came through. Then, it appeared. Ink black and huge and violent and the most terrifying, most beautiful, most powerful thing I had ever seen. Staring down one of those things is the closest you will ever come to staring into a deity; only the sight of God could compare to this.

And then it was gone. As quickly as it had come, it had moved on. Sirens wailed and raced by, chasing the aftermath. I couldn’t believe what we had just experienced. And this was my first tornado! I still can’t believe my first one was an EF-4, with winds of 175 mph. I had been videoing it the whole time but, in the excitement, had the camera pointed behind me and not in front of me. I basically videoed the Days Inn! (haha)

That outbreak of tornadoes would end up being the deadliest in 75 years for TN. The violent nature of the tornadoes, coupled with the fact they were in February, and the speed at which they moved proved too much to survive for 57 people in the South. Thirty of those lives were in TN.  This was the deadliest tornado outbreak of the Doppler Radar era.

It’s a day I’ll never forget and it forever changed the way I storm chase. I catch myself being more cautious, which I think has cost me some tornadoes since. Oh well. Being that close to something that incredible is bound to change you.

So, today we remember all those who were lost and hurt on this day ten years ago and all the lessons that were learned. I remember one meteorologist saying (on tv, of all places) that, “This would be a bad tornado day if it weren’t February.” I still wonder how many folks heard him say that and were later hurt or killed in the twisters that night. Tornadoes can happen any time of year. Any time.

Fortunately, there’s no severe weather or severe winter weather in sight for us! That’s good news.  I love to see storms and that will never change, but I’m sure you all would rather me have to drive a distance to see them! (ha)

You all have a great day and try and stay warm! We’re still just 22 degrees. Brrr.

4 thoughts on “Big Rains are Coming and Remembering the Feb. 5, 2008 tornadoes

  1. WOW!!!!!Thanks for sharing!! WOW!!

    1. You’re very welcome, Connie!

  2. What about the rest of the story on the snowstorm?

    1. Thank for reminding me, Teresa! I’ll definitely finish that story in Tuesday’s blog!

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