Monday, April 06, 2009

Uncle Cran's Tornado: April 2, 1982

"Tornado leaves four dead in area"
Jerry Womack
West Plains Daily Quill (April 5, 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.
The Tornado Approaches
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.
Upper Left: Hay Baler, Hay Elevator,
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.
No matter where you looked . . .
desolation in every direction.

Upper Left: Salvage Crew (of Junk)
Upper Right: Well House
Lower Left: Hay Truck
Lower Right: Clean-Up Crew and Cousin Kevin's Pickup
Thankfully, we survived.

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.
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.

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.

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At 7:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention that the entire east wall of the kitchen and dining room was completely gone, but the cabinets, which were attached to the ceiling, were still hanging in place, and everything on the shelves was still there.....plates, glasses, cups....even paper plates napkins, and styrofoam cups....just hanging open to the world. We believe this was a category three tornado, with a 100+ yard path of total devastation, and trees blown down along a 1/4+ mile path. The trees and bushes to the south were lying with the tops to the north, and the ones to the north had the tops facing to the south.

At 8:01 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

After posting, I noticed more details in another email that you'd sent, but I had run out of time and energy, so those details shall remain a mystery...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That would a 1/4+ mile wide path.
The tornado started just east of Norfolk lake, and was still on the ground north of Moody, probably 20to 30 miles continously on the ground.


At 8:06 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

It could have been much worse, but the story is scary enough as it is.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I checked Cran, it was listed initially as Cat 3, and at some intervals was listed as Cat 4.

Given where I "read" your location, I suspect you may have experienced the higher measure.


At 8:35 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The mysterious JK comes through again.

How do you do it?

But I realize that you wish to maintain anonymity and will give us nothing that might allow us to 'read' your own location...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well Dr. Jeff,

Searches across multiple databases is the easiest way. At least for those things which are "out there."

Cran's tale this time fits the bill. This time.

I've never been able to get "hits" on people who slept on lakes.

Well I have - except none aside from Cran have made public record statements or documents available.


At 10:12 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, JK.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


How did you get my http website?

Incidentally, the ".bs" stands for "brave soul".

This needed to be clarified before someone assumed it had another more mundane meaning.


At 11:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your's was easy.



At 11:10 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, it takes a brave soul to use "bs" that way!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:11 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, I'll have to try this, too.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uh Cran?

I guess I shoulda read all the way to the end of your comment. That search term woulda been easier.

I typed in "Bull Stool."

It was on page three.

Sending the kid out to make sure the funnel was indeed gone shoulda clued me in.


At 7:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was a neighbor in 1982 and my home also had much destruction. One of my clearest memory was of seeing James Hodges, my best friend, immediately after I saw my house for the first time after the storm, and finding out 2 of our neighbors had died. We hugged and cried and even though we were the same age I found much comfort. All our windows were blown out and everything blown away from the kitchen cabinets, but we still had a platter of peanut brittle on the kitchen table. Would have gone nice with Ruby's chilli!!!

At 9:41 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the comment and memory. Maybe James will read and appreciate it, too.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 9:06 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, I'm sorry to hear that your friend Jennifer died in the storm. That must have been a terrible loss.

I once saw a tornado directly overhead not far from where Uncle Cran's house blew away.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:34 AM, Anonymous stacy welch said...

i know this is old but my name is stacy i also was in the car as kim and jennifer there was many family members in the car it was a terrible night that night i remember seeing it coming towards us and there was no sound to it everyone says it sounds like a train but this one didnt and i can tell u that this was one heck of a ride i remember rocks started hitting car and it went brownish coloer and then someone said hang on and remember car coming off ground and then hitting the ground and trees it seemed like it rolled for minites and when it ended there was only a few of us in the car we craweled out and we finally made it back to house and we where finally taken to hospital by the neighbors who drove threw their fences and stuff to get to us.

At 10:47 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Ms. Welch, thanks for the report. Some 32 years later, the experience still sounds traumatic.

I'll let my Uncle Cran know of your report.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Each person saw the tornado from their own unique perspective.
We still talk about the tornado, and every April 2, we dread the spring storms.
My son's school teacher (Viola High School) and his daughter were caught by the tornado and their pickup was carried a hundred yards, but they weren't badly hurt.
There wasn't any noise until the tornado got really close. The wind picked up gadually, then sounded like a jet engine overhead. The "train sound" was the wind whirling on the ground and ripping out trees in the yard.



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