The Sky for a Ceiling

The Sky for a Ceiling

One often hears of many strange events during tornadoes. They sometimes seem to have an almost human knack for playing practical jokes. So it was on a balmy morning in southern Oklahoma in spring 1980. A woman had just stepped into the yard to hang her washing up to dry. Strangely, she did not notice the ominous dark cloud drifting over the area and obliterating the sunlight as the wind began to blow. She had been a witness to this type of weather before, and it meant a tornado was in the making.

As she worked, a large twister descended from the mother cloud and swept up all the standing structures in its path. The woman fled terrified into her house, aware that she did not have enough time to get to the storm cellar a hundred yards away. Instead she took refuge in a closet located under her back stairway. Bracing herself, she could hear the roar of the twister as it passed overhead. The house shook and vibrated; convinced that she was about to die she prayed silently to her Maker. But the roar of the tornado passed, and the house ceased to vibrate. Knowing she somehow was spared, she cautiously opened the closet door. The woman recoiled at the sight in front of her; all that remained of the house was the closet and stairway.

Nature's "sense of humor" can seem weird. In 1989 a tornado tore the roof completely off a building near Lawrence, Kansas. The unharmed family stood outside surveying their home, which was entirely intact except that it no longer had a roof. The man of the family was absolutely delighted; he wanted to replace the old roof, which was full of leaks. As he and his wife debated how they would go about this, one of the children screamed that the tornado was returning. It had actually doubled back on itself and was retracing its former path. The returning tornado settled the debate. This time around it removed the entire house.

Nothing is stranger than what occurred in summer 1938 in the town of Baird, Texas. The citizens of Baird were uneasy that day as the air felt familiar to most of them. They were sure it was tornado weather, and they were right.

Late in the afternoon an ominous black cloud appeared rather suddenly and moved rapidly over the town. It was very definitely the type of cloud that spawns a tornado. Baird residents could see the thick, feathery cloud wisps moving in and out of each other, leaving streaks of black or white whipping cloudlets. Then a huge section of the main cloud began to rotate, and a twister formed and descended rapidly on the town. As the twister, a whitish whirling fluff, hit the ground, its bottom immediately became black with churned—up dark soil cover. The twister rapidly turned black from the ground up into the main cloud, which by now was also spawning several small tornadoes that would whirl off the cloud a relatively short distance and dissipate. This activity seemed to be continuous.

The tornado that touched down was the killer. It cut a path 200 yards wide and nearly a mile long, almost completely through the town. Any house in its path was utterly destroyed; in all, almost 50 homes became matchsticks. The tornado, seemingly enjoying itself, started to return to the mother cloud. As it rose it passed over a house and tried to take the building with it. The house, lifted from its foundation and turned at least one complete rotation, dropped about 60 feet away. But not all of it was destroyed. The tornado lifted the house from its base with such sudden force that the floor stayed behind intact, with all the furniture still standing upright and in place. In the bathroom a man was busily taking a bath. Completely unaware that a tornado was in the process of destroying much of Baird, he was in the act of soaping himself down when the house suddenly disappeared from above him. And there he sat in his nakedness, completely bewildered, frightened, unharmed, and with only the sky for a ceiling.

From the book: 
Petrified Lightning