Living Through the Deadly Tornado Super Outbreak of April 2011

April 27, 2011 was one of the scariest days of my life. I remember being home alone with my son and going about our day as we would normally do. My husband called me in the morning to tell me that the weather was supposed to be bad and to keep an eye on the weather channel. It was nothing very alarming to me as April was usually our season for serious thunderstorms as the weather was warming and there was more moisture in the air.

I casually turned on the tv and didn’t really pay attention. There were a lot of red spots on the map, but none were really reaching us and they were small areas. I still wasn’t very concerned. Ok, we were going to have large bouts of rainfall sporadically. No biggie.

At this time in my life, I was a big couponer. I would dumpster dive to collect my coupons (it was a recycle center and was newspapers only in the dumpster). I was actually planning to dumpster dive that day after lunch. I headed in that direction and when I got there, I noticed the wind picking up and clouds rolling in. I didn’t want to take a chance on getting rained out and being there with my son, so we headed back home. My husband had called me on the way and said that there were tornado warnings and he thought I should come where he was working and hang out since the house had a basement (and ours did not).

I still wasn’t very worried as this is typical for this time of year.

I decided to go on over there just to have something to do and to appease my husband. I knew it would calm his nerves as he worries about us too much. We stayed there for a few hours and we actually watched a tornado pass by in the distance, on the horizon. It was very windy, but we weren’t getting any rain where we were. I was a little surprised at this point at the action we had witnessed. Still not alarmed.

My 4 year old son had had an accident on himself and he was getting tired and thirsty. We had nothing while we were there, so I was ready to go. It was almost time to stop working for the day, so my husband asked me to just wait a little longer and we’d all leave together. Once we left, we had some nasty weather moving in behind us. It started to catch up to us and it started hailing. I knew this was a sign of a tornado approaching, so I became really worried at this point. My car was nearly out of gas and we were out in the country. I needed to get to a station quickly. But the hail was pounding my car. I stopped under and overpass, but decided I needed to keep going.

After driving for a few minutes and outrunning the storm, I made it to a station. As soon as I got out, I noticed how the sky over the ridgeline was greenish black. I was scared at this point and suggested we move into the HArdees next door for our safety. My husband insisted we move on home, which was literally just a minute drive from where we were. I gassed up only $3 so we could hurry. No later than 30 seconds, we were driving through extreme strikes of lightning that absolutely terrified me. I gunned it. I drove like a maniac on that minute drive and whipped into my driveway then quickly got my son out of the car and into the house. I had him stand under the door jamb and I met up with my husband outside. We watched as the trees began to sway violently then one huge piece of hail landed in our yard. We immediately ran into the house and dove into the closet. My husband went to the bathroom window and watched as he said tree limbs swayed so hard they touched the ground. The sound of the air blowing past began to whistle. Rain and debris began to blow sideways against the window. He then knew he needed to take safety. Suddenly the air changed. The roof popped and it sounded as though there were jet airplanes backed up against our house. Then BOOM! The roof exploded, but remained attached. I could hear rain pouring into the house and I smelled pine and dusty insulation. I was terrified for my life wondering, “Is this going to be an EF5 that takes our lives?” I clenched my 4 year old even tighter. And after about 15 seconds, it was over.

I was shaking. I was in shock. I was so damn thankful to be alive, but I was too numb to feel it.

I got up and saw my house in a wrecked stated. My bedroom and my son’s bedroom were disasters. I picked my son up and we headed outside to look at the neighborhood. Our house was hit the worst. My neighbor, Dee, met us and asked if we were ok. They were concerned after looking out at the neighborhood and seeing our house destroyed. It was then that I began to cry and the panic hit me.

I could have just died. It was so overwhelming. I posted a message on Facebook that we were hit, but we were ok. My phone was on 3% and I knew I wouldn’t be able to call everyone. And I wasn’t able to charge it as the power was out in our neighborhood. I eventually had to charge it in my car.

But the show wasn’t over yet. We would eventually hide out in my neighbor’s underground garage for the rest of the night (roughly 6 hours). I watched at one point, while my son finally fell asleep, an EF4 pass close by. The wind was crazy even from that. We eventually slept in my neighbor’s house and assessed the damage in the morning.

The April 2011 Super Outbreak was one of the most active tornado outbreaks in history. It occurred April 25-28. There were a total of 758 tornadoes during the month of April and on the 27th alone, there were 122 resulting in 319 deaths. Here you can see the tracks. The red ones were the EF5s. Dark blue EF4. We were in the bottom right corner of Tennessee where those two colors overlapped.

This is the damage cause by the tornado that hit our house, an EF2.

You can see how the winds caused the trees to permanently lean towards our house.

Here’s the house from the road.

My bedroom and the spot in the ceiling in my son’s bedroom where the tree was laying, being supported.

Our house was a very sturdy home, thankfully.

This event completely uprooted and changed our lives. My son didn’t eat, pee or talk for nearly two days afterwards. He was eventually diagnosed with PTSD and still struggles with it during bad weather. Afterwards, we lived in a hotel for two weeks before insurance put us in one of my BILs homes. A month after that, it was bought to his surprise, so here we were moving again…3 times in 3 months. This all happened when my job at the time was giving me grief about working me because they couldn’t find my doctor’s note for my work restrictions (there was only one thing I wasn’t allowed to do). I eventually wound up quitting after nearly 9 years because it was all too much.

Once we were settled in our apartment, we focused on our move to Florida more so than ever. We had one year before we wanted to make it happen and we did. I am so glad to no longer live in that area. They are now considering it the “new tornado alley” and just last night there was the threat of serious weather. You can never be prepared for a tornado. You have no idea what to expect in such short notice. It’s very scary. Each year I think about this day and all the people who lost their lives, including a baby in my town. It had a serious impact on us.

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