Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tornado Tale Times Two

BeeLine was inaugarated a little over two years ago with a email to a dozen friends who I thought my enjoy my blog.

It has slowly grown in readership due solely to the word-of-mouth of loyal readers like you.  Although daily readership is not in the thousands, a good day now numbers well over a hundred readers.  Readership also spans the globe which shows the power of the world wide web.  Just this week visitors from Romania, Russia, China, UK, France, Brazil, Germany, Ukraine, Ireland and Turkey have read BeeLine.

The growth in readership this year has been particulary gratifying.  In fact, nine of the ten most read BeeLine blog posts were published in 2013. 

However, events on this day exactly 52 years ago could have prevented BeeLine from ever being born.  I wrote about that tale two years ago on this day and that post is the only one that was written prior to this year that is still in the top 10 most popular BeeLine posts. 

Since BeeLine has so many new readers, I thought I would reprise that post today.  Here is my Tornado Tale Times Two.  No, that is not me in a red dress.  I just thought it was a very compelling image that I found on the internet.  My tale was before photoshop and touch-tone phones.  Let me take you back to 1961.

Photo Credit: Brian Oldham

A Tornado Tale
(Originally published 4/25/11)

50 years ago today I came close to death.  I was in a house that took a direct hit from an EF4 Tornado in Eaton, Ohio.  It was shortly before 400pm on a late April afternoon and I was in my bedroom organizing my baseball cards with my best friend.  My mother was visiting a neighbor with my younger brother.  I looked out the back window and looming straight ahead about a half mile away was the tornado dancing back and forth right in front of my eyes.  It appeared to be on a direct path to our home.

I remember seeing details that you normally don't pick up in photographs.  I clearly could see lumber, shingles and other debris swirling around near the top of the twister.  We made a quick call to my friend's home to warn them of the approaching tornado and headed for the basement.  We bounded down the stairs.  We heard the sound of a car's horn racing down the main road that was parallel to the tornado's path.  We later learned it was the family who operated the farm behind us who had decided to run for it rather than go to their basement.

A few seconds later the tornado hit.  It was a deafening roar.  It was as if you were standing right by the railroad tracks and a train was going by at enormous speed.  I remember covering my ears with my hands because of the roar.  I remember my friend and I shouting at each other at the top of our lungs but you could not hear a word over the sound.  Suddenly it got even louder and it sounded as if the entire house was caving in.  I remember looking up at the floor and joists above me and thinking that this was it.  I fully expected to be soon buried alive.  Time did slow down.  I remember thinking I had just turned eleven years old and this was the end of the road.  It then became deathly quiet.  The floor had held and my friend and I checked each other to be sure we were all right.

We cautiously started up the basement stairs.  The door would not open but we both put our shoulder to it and pushed hard. We got it about half way open and slithered out.  Staring at us through the adjoining door to the garage was a steel beam that had been thrown around like a tooth pick. It had penetrated almost a foot through the door into the house.  The windows on the back side of the house that faced the tornado were all broken.  The draperies hung in tatters and were now blowing in the wind.  The windows on the front of the house were intact but were caked with dirt and grass that looked like it had been sprayed on. The dirt was so thick you could not see through the windows at all.  All through the house lay debris. Drywall from the ceiling was laying all over. You could look up and see the sky.

I tried to make my way back to my bedroom but I couldn't navigate the debris that littered the hallway.  My friend and I went out the front door and we could see the tornado continuing on its way to more destruction down the road.  The tornado looked much better from the backside.

I did not have shoes on but I began running toward the house where my mother was.  It had been spared but for some minor damage.  It was a debris field of 2x4's, downed electric wires and protruding nails to get to her. I saw some hay straw blown straight in to some siding as if it was a nail.  I reached my mother and looked back at our house for the first time.  I almost could not believe the sight.  It looked as if our house had been bombed.  I had a hard time choking back tears as I saw our house.  I kept saying to my mother, "Look at our house".  She just kept repeating, "It is ok.  You are alive".  Even after 50 years, you do not forget a day like that.

Photographs and other background on the tornado of April 25, 1961

Photo taken of the tornado by a local photographer at close to the time it destroyed our house.

Photo of what was left of the Turner farmhouse that was directly behind our house.  Witnesses said that when the tornado hit the 2-story frame house it lifted it straight up and the house exploded and deposited almost all of the debris in the basement.  Fortunately, the Turner family did not go to the basement for shelter.  Mr. and Mrs. Turner started for the basement but their 20-year son did not feel the house could withstand the tornado.  They jumped in their car and made a run for it.  That decision undoubtedly saved their lives. It was their car horn I heard in the basement right before the tornado struck.

Our house was totally constructed out of stone.  I was in the basement on the left side of the house as you look at this picture.  The people are on top of debris that used to be the garage and a back porch that were on a slab.  It was the sound of the collapse of this part of the house that had me thinking the entire house was coming down on me.

The house as it looked shortly after construction in 1957 (4 years before the tornado).  I was in the bedroom looking out the window on the far right side of the house when I first saw the tornado approaching.

The house from the right front showing the collapsed garage.  I was in the basement near this corner of the house when the tornado struck.

Through April 24, according to the National Weather Service, there have been 438 confirmed tornadoes in the United States. Only one has been an EF4 similar to the Eaton tornado of 1961.  We have already seen 306 tornadoes in April, 2011. This is the highest April total ever.  The previous record was 267 in 1974. The average number of April tornadoes is 163.  Keep your eyes on the sky and take shelter immediately if one of these terrible twisters heads your way.


  1. “Keep your eyes on the sky and take shelter immediately if one of these terrible twisters heads your way.” - I agree. Your tale about tornadoes is pretty scary! And to think there could be 168 of it in a month?!? Whoah, it shouldn't be taken lightly! That's why it's important you have a safe shelter you could go into immediately in a case a tornado comes around.

    Edwina Sybert

  2. Scott... I have told this story to my children and amazingly remembered
    the story almost exactly as you’ve described. I thought however that either you or Jefff H were partially blown down your basement steps. It was not your time and you were surely meant to live and prosper. Thankful for this.
    Lisa Neff Rydarowski

    1. Lisa...How did you ever find this blog post? No, Jeff and I were not blown down the steps. That would make it more dramatic but it did not happen. I would love to catch up with you. You can DM on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter (@BeeLineBlog). I would love to hear how the last 50 years have gone for you!