Dec 10 2021 Tornado Swarm Check-in Thread December 11, 2021 12:43 PM   Subscribe

The video I've seen of the disaster at Mayfield, KY is horrific, and there are a lot more places hit, too. I hope mefites are okay and are receiving the help and support they need. I'd love to hear from people in this thread to know their situation and that they are okay enough to post on the interwebs.
posted by hippybear to MetaFilter-Related at 12:43 PM (19 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

Kirkwood, MO here — we're safe. We sheltered in our basement a bit last night. Our kids were a bit scared but enjoyed staying up after bedtime. I took the opportunity to show our oldest a bit of Star Wars episode IV for the first time

I'm a little unclear on the details but I believe there were multiple tornadoes in the greater St Louis area. In the greater St Louis area. Tragically, there were at least 2 fatalities at an Amazon warehouse just across the river in Illinois. CW a recent picture of at least one of the victims and pictures of the collapsed warehouse:
posted by Tehhund at 12:58 PM on December 11, 2021 [6 favorites]

My whole family is from that little corner of northwest Tennessee up near the Kentucky border, and my aunt lives in Mayfield. She's out in the country about five miles from the candle factory. She says the storm came on so suddenly that she and her husband had just enough time to get to an inner room and throw a bunch of coats and blankets over themselves while the winds roared overhead and then it was over. They're okay, their house is okay, but it was scary.

My centenarian+ grandmother and aunt from the other side of the family live in Gibson/Obion counties. Granny slept through the whole thing and her sturdy brick house is fine, but all her trees are uprooted and the patio furniture has gone wandering. The neighbor 40 feet away is missing chunks of roof and every room in the house is leaking. Aunt's house is untouched. The power's been out all day -- they have to clear a mess of trees to even reach the powerlines, so they're hunkering down but a neighbor with electricity has invited them over for the night.

I'm so thankful my family is all okay, but this is a devastating situation for these small rural communities.
posted by mochapickle at 5:47 PM on December 11, 2021 [20 favorites]

If this was 10 years ago when I was still at college in Murray (about 25 miles from Mayfield), I would be far more shook up now than I am, but Louisville and the surrounding areas are mostly safe and still in one piece.
posted by deezil at 5:49 PM on December 11, 2021

Last week I told my younger son the story of how we escaped a tornado a dozen years ago -- and I showed him the picture I took of the funnel cloud looming literally overhead. We were totally unscathed, but news of tornadoes still sets me on edge.

I hope the victims and survivors heal quickly, and that the rescuers and community stay safe.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:57 PM on December 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Tragically, there were at least 2 fatalities at an Amazon warehouse just across the river in Illinois.

I suspect I can guess this answer but what do companies do about tornado watches? Is it "Welp, hope we don't get hit; keep working" or are there shelters at businesses?
posted by Mitheral at 6:07 PM on December 11, 2021

There are designated take-shelter areas (usually bathrooms and locker rooms, sometimes offices and conference rooms - interior rooms with no windows) and it's a part of general emergency action plan training /drills.
posted by Sparky Buttons at 6:12 PM on December 11, 2021 [5 favorites]

"I suspect I can guess this answer but what do companies do about tornado watches? Is it "Welp, hope we don't get hit; keep working" or are there shelters at businesses?"

In Illinois, absolutely shelters. I have sat out tornado warnings in the oddest places when I happened to be caught out away from home -- merchandise cages in the basement of a retailer, underground running tracks (popular for a while in high schools as dual-use for gym class and tornado shelters), library basements, interior stairwells of tall buildings. I know where the tornado shelters are in almost all the local businesses I frequent. I have never had a boss who was like, "Eh, just keep working," and I have had some real bad bosses. I HAVE been in retail stores and restaurants where a customer did not want to go into the shelter and preferred to take their chances, and the manager all but forced them into the shelter because they want zero of that liability. It can be really, really tedious, but it's just like, "whelp, this is tornado country, sometimes we all go sit in a basement or interior room for periods of time ranging from 5 to 90 minutes" and nobody likes the guy who complains about it. Like, none of us WANT to be sitting in this stairwell for an indeterminate length of time, we'd ALL like to be somewhere else, but the rest of us are trying to make the best of it.

(My "worst" tornado warning was a swarm of them, when I had a babysitter and was running a quick errand to the library on my way home from whatever I'd been doing, I was due home in about 10 minutes, and I ended up stuck in the library basement for 90 minutes, with all local cell service knocked out. I was about to crawl out of my skin, as you can well imagine, but the teenaged babysitter just took the kids down to the basement and hung out there until I got home. Which I knew she would do and everything would be fine, but it was still a looooooooong 90 minutes. No tornados touched down locally. I paid the sitter double and made sure to tell her parents how responsible and cool-headed she was.)

I saw those pictures of the amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, and I was like, "That's not a building, that's a low-end pole barn." That's an awfully flimsy building for such a wide-span roof in tornado country. And I'm sure it was up to code! But it's relatively common knowledge that your tornado shelter needs to be above code for a direct hit, especially in a wide-span roof building.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 7:58 AM on December 12, 2021 [20 favorites]

This is where I am grateful I don't live in Kansas anymore. I got caught out more than once seeing a coil of cumulus mammatus pass overhead in my time there -- when with lightning hitting a block away and the loudest thunder, the heavens would burst like a battery of downward pointing fire hoses, soaking me to the skin before I could get under a porch. Once was more than enough.

Thunderheads in stately formation on the horizon are a beauty to behold but to be beneath them is a terror. Everything moves so fast. And all that I saw could not hold a candle to what just happened in Kentucky and Tennessee. Why I can't even to the nth power.
posted by y2karl at 4:34 PM on December 12, 2021 [7 favorites]

I wonder whether tornados, derechos, hurricanes, freak hailstorms, snowfalls feet deep and other extreme weather will finally put paid to the McMansion craze in favor of smaller, more solidly built and above all tougher houses.
posted by jamjam at 4:38 PM on December 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

The worst of it passed well to the north of where we are, but the severe thunderstorm warnings had me up from 3-4AM watching the local severe weather nerds on Twitter on one screen and the NWS radar on the other (along with a scanner for the local emergency services). We did not wind up in warning polygon, which is my cue to go wake everyone up and hustle them into the safest spot downstairs.

A couple of radar-indicated tornadoes (with debris signatures) looked to be moving through Hermitage/Mt Juliet; similar blobs were heading our way but the squall line sort of fizzled out by 4 and then it was just a whole lotta rain. The reports coming out KY were bad even in the midst of the weather; what's come out in the last day or so has been absolutely devastating.

jamjam - I am not optimistic. Without some sort of code requirement, in any case, and good luck with anything that presents the least amount of friction to the building industry.
posted by jquinby at 6:04 PM on December 12, 2021 [5 favorites]

My family (mom, two brothers and their families) live in Paducah, the next town north of Mayfield. They are entirely fine, just a few down trees and in some cases, a brief loss of power. But they're taking this in much the same way I would imagine people do when they find out the flight right after theirs crashed: they're fully aware they're lucky and they got off more or less scot-free, but it's hard for them not to be rattled a bit by the near miss.

The footage of Mayfield is just awful. That brick town hall they keep showing? It's missing a tower that was half its height. My heart goes out to everyone there, just next to home.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:51 PM on December 13, 2021 [5 favorites]

Nashville area here, and I feel like I earned a parenting merit badge no one ever wants, to wit:

- NWS emergency boop wakes us up
- I look at the latest reporting, can hear the siren in the distance
- "Yeah... we should wake up the kids."
- Quickly and quietly wake up children, double-time down the stairs without children freaking out
- Cram into downstairs bathroom while calling and checking on other family to make sure they're also hunkered down

No damage here other than some Christmas decorations got slightly bent, but I have a coworker that lives in NW TN pretty close to the path of that big tornado and he has some stories.
posted by pianoblack at 12:08 PM on December 14, 2021 [5 favorites]

I said, "I saw those pictures of the amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, and I was like, "That's not a building, that's a low-end pole barn." That's an awfully flimsy building for such a wide-span roof in tornado country. And I'm sure it was up to code! But it's relatively common knowledge that your tornado shelter needs to be above code for a direct hit, especially in a wide-span roof building."

... and as of today the feds have opened an investigation into the Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, and the inadequacy of its shelters (and how freaking far apart they are -- most people can't sprint 300 yards!), and the refusal to let employees have phones in the warehouse but with no alternative mode of providing weather alerts. They're making specific reference to the 2004 Roanoke tornado I mentioned above, and the hardened storm shelter at Parsons that meant that that direct hit resulted in no loss of life (although literally everybody's car was destroyed and located three cornfields over). Amazon's press conferences have VERY CAREFULLY danced around the fact that there was no storm shelter in the building; employees were directed to the bathrooms, but the bathrooms were not reinforced or hardened against tornadoes. Amazon knows its goose is being cooked as we speak, and Amazon's PR people are tap dancing as fast as they can.

The deaths in Kentucky and Tennessee are complicated -- tornados in mountain areas are a heck of a lot harder to predict accurately. But tornados in Illinois? We know they're coming, we can see them coming, it's all very flat so they move in pretty predictable ways.

It's really heartening that the feds are investigating this, and that they're referring to the Parsons tornado as their "things done well" point. We do know how to do tornadoes right in warehouses and wide-span-roof buildings! Too many companies just don't want to pay for it.

(Also basically every person I've had a conversation with locally in the past couple days has had A LOT TO SAY about low-end wide-span roof buildings and tornadoes, and I feel very validated that everyone I know is also upset about the flimsiness of the Amazon building. I'm a bit of an infrastructure nerd so I often feel like I'm the only one that cares about X, but no, literally everyone who lives here is like "THAT WAS A BAD BUILDING.")
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 9:26 PM on December 14, 2021 [15 favorites]

Amazon's building was both bad and sadly typical, at least based on my time in Oklahoma.
posted by wierdo at 10:48 PM on December 14, 2021

The deaths in Kentucky and Tennessee are complicated -- tornados in mountain areas are a heck of a lot harder to predict accurately.

Western Kentucky and Tennessee are pretty flat -- it's river basin area, lowlands with a lot of farming. Illinois with a southern accent. The Courier Journal has a really great timeline of the warnings. General warnings started on Thursday and Friday, then intensified as they were able to pin it down.

One issue, I think, is that severe weather warnings and tornado warnings aren't all that rare for that region, so people seem to be less sensitive to it and hedge their bets a bit more until the messages get clearer. And some people didn't get warnings on their phones immediately before. And as the climate evolves and the weather becomes more extreme, there will be more warnings to navigate. My aunt in Mayfield says that in their case, they knew maybe 10-20 minutes in advance that they needed to actively take cover, and 10-20 minutes means sheltering in place, wherever they are.

And the enormity of this is staggering, with so many factors contributing. Mayfield was unseasonably warm for December right before the storm hit, in the high 60s well after dark.

Water is a huge issue in the aftermath. Apparently Mayfield's water tower fell, so water will need to be trucked in. But water's an issue, too, in the tornado's path through Tennessee. Some schools are out because they don't have water, so they're abandoning the semester and coming back after Christmas. Lots of areas are still getting electricity back -- my grandmother's house was back on as of yesterday after a few chilly nights with family sleeping next to the fireplace in the living room, but my aunt is still waiting.

Crews of volunteers from neighboring areas are clearing branches and debris, even some guy bringing his own backhoe. My uncle has just arrived from out of state to help out and he says the damage is simply unreal -- enormous trees fallen, barns collapsed. Mayfield was absolutely flattened, but even an hour south, the whole region is changed.
posted by mochapickle at 2:16 AM on December 15, 2021 [3 favorites]

If anyone is able and/or interested:

The YMCA of Hopkins County (in western Kentucky) is asking for donations (click on Hopkins County Storm Relief 2021 in the campaign drop-down menu) for toiletries and other necessities (towels, clothing, etc.) for folks who have been displaced by the tornados. They've opened their facility for the public to come get a meal, take a shower, do some laundry, let the kids play, and just generally feel human again. They've also opened their gym to the Red Cross and other organizations to store supplies and materials. You could also send items to the Y but the folks on the ground will likely know better than we will what's actually needed.

Disclosure: I work with the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati and we've obtained a $10,000 match for the Hopkins County Storm Relief campaign.
posted by cooker girl at 9:44 AM on December 15, 2021 [6 favorites]

Hello from Murray, Kentucky, where my home is about a 20 minute drive from Mayfield. Most folks here are okay and have their homes still. Power was out until Sunday afternoon and cell service was spotty, with internet service to our homes not returned until sometime during the night Sunday. We were mostly inconvenienced by having to drive down to Tennessee to charge devices. And then we were all a little cold because we didn't have heat Sunday. Frost night, it was 71 degrees out when I went to bed around 10:30. Overnight Saturday, the temp dropped into the high 20s so it was frozen outside. I can't imagine what it was like for all the people who were trapped, or the people that were trying to uncover people.

My county doesn't get many tornados, which is good, because most homes don't have basements or storm shelters. We worry about flooding, usually. Tornados aren't normal weather in this little corner of Western Kentucky. The counties further west are much flatter and mostly farmland and generally deal with tornados more. But not in December. And not usually with a 50 degree drop in weather during the aftermath.

My boss' family all live and work in Mayfield. They are okay, their homes are okay. But they were out with tractors early Saturday morning and all weekend, pulling debris away from the candle factory. I keep hearing from people around me who lost a loved one, or who know someone that has. This area is full of families who have lived here for generations. They've all grown up together. I'm 20 minutes from Mayfield's disaster and also in the middle of it.

Meanwhile in Marshall County - directly north of us - a tornado passed by, about 70 feet from my best friend's house. It tore through the neighborhood all the way to the lake. You guys don't know how far that is, but it's most of my teenage stomping grounds. Her house and family are okay. They are still without power, and most of them are on well water so the pumps are without power. Her sister's best friend (Southern Missouri) is unresponsive in the hospital and lost one of her three children (and her home).

I don't know if any of the news is reporting on the poverty in these towns, and the role that plays in people's ability to prepare for bad weather by leaving the area or even having housing with adequate shelter from a tornado; even without losing homes, a lot of folks lost all their food. I haven't seen anything about the impact of this on the immigrant population that lives and works in Mayfield.

The pictures are surreal. I can't watch any of the videos. I've talked to too many people who heard people screaming around them.

I'm sorry for the length here, but writing/talking about it helps me process.
posted by persephone's rant at 4:18 PM on December 15, 2021 [13 favorites]

I mentioned severe weather twitter above - this is general group I'm talking about. County-specific spotters and nerds who are in direct communication with NWS Nashville. You can follow your county or city (if available), or #tspotter to watch everything that's going on. It really is a great setup and one of the best use-cases for social media generally (and Twitter in particular) that I've seen. During an event, I'm watching that and listening to the weather radio alerts.

Sometimes I'll listen to the amateur radio nets, but I've found that they just tend to repeat the alarms and alerts I've already heard. They also tend to be behind a bit in terms of reporting. You have to be a ham to reach the local VHF nets and report weather spots; anyone with a phone and the hashtag can do the same and the NWS will see your information and photographs immediately.
posted by jquinby at 5:03 PM on December 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Apologies if it's a bit of a derail, but at the moment there's a tornado warning for Albert Lea, Minnesota, a couple of hours drive south of here.

Why is this notable? This is the first instance of a tornado being reported in Minnesota in December since records started being kept. The previous latest reported tornado was on November 16, 1931.
posted by gimonca at 5:27 PM on December 15, 2021 [6 favorites]

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