Uncle Cran's Tornado: April 2, 1982
The following is Uncle Cran's report of the tornado that struck his Arkansas Ozark farm 27 years ago:
April 2, 1982 started out as a beautiful morning, but chances of thunderstorms by evening.
We had moved back to Arkansas after six years in La Junta, Colorado, where I was pastor of the La Junta Baptist Tabernacle. We moved the first week of June, 1981. It was quite a convoy. I drove a U-Haul truck with our belongings, and towed my Ford Econoline truck. Gay followed in our Ford LTD, Kevin driving his 55 Chevy pickup, and Mark and James in Mark's red sports car (don't remember the model or make). We moved into Gay's mom's two-story farmhouse. I started carpentry work with brother Woodrow, Gay working at the Mar-Bax shirt factory, and Mark moved to Tulsa to attend Spartan School of Electronics. Kevin worked with a land surveyor in Mountain Home.
Everything was going well for us that morning about one year later.
I was driving to Woodrow's house, south of Salem, Arkansas, then riding with him to a worksite at Oxford, a few miles (kilometers) away. After work, we returned to his house, and his wife Pauline tried to get me to stay and eat some of the chili supper she had prepared. But I said I needed to get home, as I had things to do when I got there. That decision possibly saved some of our lives, as everyone was inside when I got home, ready for supper.
As I was driving home on MO 142 from Moody, Missouri, I looked to the west and there was a dark, dangerous thunderstorm moving up US 160 and to the northeast, headed for West Plains. I thought that there might be a tornado in that storm. Sure enough, there was, and two people were killed, and lots of property damaged.
I arrived at the farm home at 6:00 pm. Getting out of the truck I looked to the southwest, and saw a cloud moving our way. I felt a strange feeling of danger as I watched it approaching. It looked like it was boiling at the top, and some low scudding clouds coming from the southeast were being pulled into the big cloud.
As I watched, Gay's mom came out and said, "Cran, come in and eat, supper is on the table and getting cold."
I said, "Ruby, I think I had better watch this cloud . . . it looks bad."
So she stayed out and watched also. As the scud clouds reached the storm clouds, they were sucked into it, and the top was rotating counterclockwise. I said, "That's a tornado, and we had better get to the cellar."
She got Gay and James, and they grabbed purses and a few handheld possessions.
Gay and Ruby ran to the cellar, but James and I watched it until this sinister, gray funnel reached the fenceline across the west field 1/4 mile off (.4 km). The trees and bushes began to shake, and we ran to the cellar and shut the trap door.
For a few minutes, there was an onimous stillness, then the wind began to pick up. Then it began to roar. It sounded much like a jet airplane taking off and passing overhead. Then what sounded like hail began pounding the metal trap door. Just then, a big limb from an elm tree just south of us landed across the door with a tremendous crash. The wind was screaming so loud it was deafening. Then the cellar walls would vibrate as the trees were being jerked up by the roots nearby. When the tornado was directly over us, the spinning of the wind sounded much like a freight train passing right next to us, with the screaming wind, and we wondered if the cellar would hold. We were doing some praying, I can tell you.
Then a bag of turnips (about 40 pounds [approximately 20 kg]) moved across the cellar floor and up the steps. Gay's mom screamed, "Children, hold on to each other!"
It seemed like a long time, but probably the shaking and noise lasted less than a minute, then there was an awesome silence. I told everyone to be prepared for the worst when we got out.
I tried to raise the cellar door, but the tree limb had it wedged shut. That probably kept us from being sucked out by the updraft and powerful wind.
I found a two-by-four plank (38 mm × 89 mm) and was able to get the door up enough for James to crawl out. As soon as he looked, he began saying, "Oh no! Oh no!"
I had to say, "James, you have to get the limbs out of the way enough for us to get out."
When we looked around after we squeezed out, it was a shock to look around. It looked like a war zone, and everywhere you looked, it seemed the whole world was gone.
The time was 6:15 pm.
2-Ton Flatbed Hay Truck
Barn Completely Gone
Upper Right: House and Aunt Gay's Car
Lower Left: Cousin James Searching For Stuff
Uncle Cran's Pickup
Lower Right: House, Car and Pickup
I looked to the southwest, and where trees had been, there was an open strip at least 100 yards wide (approximately 100 meters), nothing left but the bare ground. I thought, our neighbors, Tom and Maye Durham, were likely gone.
Sure enough, later that night, they were found in their barn lot, lying near one another.
desolation in every direction.
Upper Right: Well House
Lower Left: Hay Truck
Lower Right: Clean-Up Crew and Cousin Kevin's Pickup
Thankfully, we survived.By this time, 1982, I was already at UC Berkeley and thus only heard distantly of this tornado that struck Uncle Cran's farm, and I didn't really hear the story firsthand until 2000, when Cousin James was stationed at Kunsan Air Base here in Korea and told me all about it. The most striking detail for me was that when they crawled out of the storm cellar and returned to the house, the dining table was still intact, with the supper still on it, ready for them to sit down and eat. I doubt, however, that they had much appetite.
And eventually our lives returned to normal, but the shock and post-traumatic stress continued for about a year.
I have earned a healthy respect for storms ever since.
On a healthy respect for tornadoes . . . I've had that ever since my brief, rather innocuous brush with one several years before Uncle Cran's experience.