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Kentucky Tornadoes Bring Back Memories of Scary Sirens, Cigars, and Vanishing Kiwanians

Don Farrall, Getty Images

The tornado (we think it was one) that blew past the WBKR studios on Friday afternoon took me back 12 years to 2000. That F3 tornado (we knew it was one) that ripped through Owensboro on January 3 created the exact same high-velocity visuals we saw just two days ago. Yes, Friday’s storms took me back 12 years. The sirens took me back even farther.

OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS

When I was a kid in the 70s, we had quite a few tornado sirens throughout the spring months, but no touchdowns. Still, there must have been SOMETHING there. Without the technology we have today–for example, the startling Facebook photos I’ve been seeing–we just didn’t know. But we DID have sirens, and, as a child, that was enough for me.

 That sinister blare still makes me recall the family contingency plan. When the sirens were fired, we’d gather up what we would consider important personal belongings and head over to my grandmother’s house; she had a basement. Mom would take a Bible; my sister would take either a yearbook or fan magazines with stories about or pictures of “Starsky & Hutch”–or both; I would grab my Matchbox City and a bunch of Hot Wheels or Matchbox cars; and Dad would get his cigars. Oh, those cigars.

CIGARS? REALLY?

One night, when we had a tornado warning, we loaded up the Mercury in preparation for the trip halfway across town. But there was a problem; Dad was out of cigars. So, with sirens blaring and doom imminent (as far as we knew), Dad pulled the car into a convenience store parking lot. It didn’t take him long, though; the clerk knew his brand. But it felt like an eternity. Anyway, we were on our way. By the way, when we’d get to my grandmother’s house, she’d have coffee ready and there were cookies. It was quite an event.

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

On another occasion, my dad was hosting a gathering of some of his friends from the Kiwanis Club and had gone into the kitchen to get everyone some coffee.

My mother had been out and had just heard on the radio that a tornado warning had been issued. She walked in the front door and announced to the guests that the warning had been issued and was nearly trampled as everyone in the living room flew out the front door almost at once.

 The living room was completely empty when Dad returned with a tray full of cups of coffee. It was quite a funny sight, Dad just standing there wondering why everyone suddenly vanished.

Of course, I’ve always wondered why it was my mother who made us all aware of the alert and not a siren. There must have been one, but I don’t remember it. No matter. We did what we always did–went to my grandmother’s. And, as was typical, there was no damage. There never seemed to be, aside from the terrible outbreak in 1974 that all but eradicated Brandenburg, Kentucky–a storm whose set-up has been described as similar to Friday’s. With a few exceptions,Owensboro went largely unscathed in that ’74 storm–again, just like Friday . I wish the same could be said for towns like Harrisburg, Illinois and the Indiana towns of Henryville and Marysville. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the residents of these communities.

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