Two previous storms did significant damage to our Chapman farm near Paxton. The first came from the southwest, around 2000, and ripped a roof off a lean-to shed on the west side of the corn crib, and laid that roof on the ground next to the then-new machine shed. That wind also toppled half of the concrete block south wall of the three-car garage. Brother David and I spent a week dismantling the rest of that lean-to, learning how our father had built it with heavy timbers and 7-inch nails, and making ourselves more tired than we could remember. We hired the repair of the garage.
The second storm, five years later, brought a straight-line wind from the north, that blew a window out of the master bedroom, irreparably damaged the vinyl siding on the north side of the house, blew down the large hackberry tree between the house and the old shed, which our father had built out of full-dimension lumber from the original 1860 farmhouse. That shed stood undamaged, but the power lines supplying it came down with the tree. The wind also toppled half of the north wall of the three-car garage. I cut up the tree, except for the massive four-foot diameter trunk. For the rest of the work I hired the Sutton brothers.
Since last October Jan and I have worked regularly to clean, fix, rehabilitate, and refurnish the 1915 foursquare house. It’s been a lot of work, and much remains to be done before we call it finished. This July we looked across the broad river valley west of the house and saw a dark wall cloud coming ten miles away that the weather radio warned us about—a tornado was coming, located between Elliot and Melvin, headed our way. We saw it at a distance as it formed a perfect funnel and began to raise a debris cloud from the ground. The next twenty minutes passed like lava, as the storm clouds seemed to stand still. Jan and I headed for the basement, taking our warning radio and cell phones with us. While Jan took a seat in a camp chair in the inside corner of one basement room, I watched the storm approach through a ground-level window in another basement room. I watched the tornado coming and a second funnel forming alongside the first.
Of course I prayed, thanking God for the relative safety of a full basement with thick brick walls that had withstood storms on this “hilltop” for a hundred and two years. If the rest of the house would be removed, and Jan and I could survive, then I would be even more thankful! In the face of that tornado, we could willingly say goodbye to the house even with the precious memories it contained. There was nothing between us and the two funnels, as they appeared to be missing our neighbor’s farmstead by a few hundred yards, still heading straight toward us.
Wall clouds and funnels are extremely interesting to watch, as well as terrifying. My heart was pounding and my excitement level jumping as I watched the bases of the two funnels dance, away from each other and toward each other, in a powerful tango. When they were about a quarter mile away, still coming slowly, and I was ready to abandon my post by the window for the safety of the other room with Jan, I saw the two tornado funnels move into each other and lift off the ground. As if one funnel canceled the other, within seconds they lifted from the ground and disappeared into the black cloud above. The house was peppered with dime-sized hail, small branches, dirt, and light field debris.
A few minutes later, as the rain continued but the winds began to subside, we moved upstairs and watched the darkest clouds move farther to the east. The tornado warning continued over the radio, but, to my knowledge, no significant damage was done. We looked around the house and the yard, and there was still work to be done, but it was not the work of picking up the pieces.