The Easter Sunday storm didn’t seem threatening at first. Steady rain and a few thunderclaps accompanied the evening. At 3:00 a.m., things became more intense at the Habersham-Banks County Line. Heavy thunder and pounding rain woke me up. With the fire station just a quarter mile away, the sirens would be audible if a tornado should form, I told myself. The night lights started flickering. In the distance, the familiar sound of a Norfolk Southern train mixed with the wind. But wait — the train noise stopped suddenly. Freight trains are usually a mile long. Also, no train horn sounded at the crossing. Two seconds later, the train returned and seemed to be approaching my house. A shrill, high-pitched whistling joined the roar of the wind. The house began to vibrate. I jumped up in alarm as two horrendous bangs were followed by the crash of breaking glass. Flashes of lightning combined with the wild flickering of the hallway lights. Then suddenly there was only darkness. The noise went away in the direction of Banks Ridge and Toccoa.
Broken window glass littered the kitchen floor, and a pine tree occupied a space in the house where there had never been a tree before. Outside, the wet yard looked eerie in the beam of the flashlight, with the deck invisible under a huge pile of broken lumber and two full-size pine trees draped squarely across the pool. We had just been hit by a tornado.
There had been no warning, contrary to my scholarly lecturing that Doppler radar allows several minutes of escape time. On the other hand, the twister was of low strength, rated EF1 in the news the next day, of a possible 6 categories ranging from 0 to 5. Still, it was plenty. Wind speeds, according to the Weather Service, were between 86 and 110 mph. Broken trees front and rear. A smashed window. My portable car shelter wrapped into the top of a tree. Thankfully, no injuries were reported in the area.
Other parts of the South weren’t so lucky. A mobile home park near the Tennessee border suffered 7 fatalities. As “our” storm continued its eastward travel, it killed a resident in Walhalla, South Carolina, just minutes after shaking up Baldwin. Once again, we stand to learn that nature is more powerful than even the latest warning technology.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.