Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Great Tornado Ride

Due to various unforeseen circumstances about 18 years ago, I now reside in the state of Arkansas, up in the Ozark Mountains, a few miles from the Missouri border, where all the beautiful people live. Unfortunately, most of them have yet to arrive.

Every spring we have the added excitement of dodging tornadoes. This past weekend, at the end of April in 2010, was no exception -- plenty of damage in the region and a few deaths.

There are approximately 1,000 tornadoes in the United States each year. The 10 most deadliest were:

1) March 18, 1925 in Murphysboro, Mo. & Gorham, Ill. – 695 dead, 2,027 injured
2) May 7, 1840 in Nachez, Miss. – 317 dead, 109 injured
3) May 27, 1896 in St Louis, Mo. & East St. Louis, Ill. – 255 dead, 1,000 injured
4) April 5, 1936 in Tupelo, Miss. – 216 dead, 700 injured
5) April, 6 1936 in Gainseville, Ga. – 203 dead, 1,600 injured
6) April 9, 1947 in Glazier, Tex. & Higgins, Okla. – 181 dead, 970 injured
7) April 24, 1908 in Amite, La. & Purvis, Miss. – 143 dead, 770 injured
8) June 12, 1899 in New Richmond, Wis. – 117 dead, 200 injured
9) June 8, 1953 in Flint, Mich. – 115 dead, 884 injured
10) May 11, 1953 in Waco, Tex. – 114 dead, 597 injured

Tornadoes are extremely dangerous. If you see one coming, you should head directly for your storm shelter. Whenever my ex-wife rolls into town, I also rush to the storm shelter and hide until the danger has passed.

In 2006, Matt Suder was a 19-year-old high school senior in Fordland, Mo., 20 miles east of Springfield. He lived in a rural mobile home with his grandmother, Linda Kelly, and his uncle, Robert Dewhirst.

On March 12, 2006, Matt told his girlfriend that he always wanted to see a tornado.

Later that evening, dressed only in his boxer shorts, Matt was watching TV when he heard an awesome noise approaching the mobile home. His grandmother was in the kitchen and his uncle was in a bedroom. Matt got up to shut the window in the living room.

That's when the tornado hit.

Matt hollered at his grandmother; then was struck on the head by a large heavy lamp, rendering him unconscious. When his grandmother turned around toward Matt, that entire end of the mobile home was gone.

Apparently, the tornado tore the walls and roof off the mobile home, and sucked Matt up into the funnel.

As the old saying goes – be careful what you wish for; it may come true. When you tell your girlfriend you want to see a tornado, make sure to add a "from a safe distance" clause. It's not wise to fool with Mother Nature.

When he regained consciousness, Matt was about a quarter mile (later measured at 1,307 feet) from what was left of the mobile home, in an open pasture, near a barbed-wire fence and a gravel road.

He looked back toward the mobile home site but saw no lights in the darkness and feared his grandmother and uncle were badly hurt or dead. Instead of returning back to the site, he made his way out onto the gravel road and ran to a neighbor's house in his bare feet. The neighbor called 911 and help was soon on the way.

Matt's grandmother was found wedged between a table and kitchen cabinets. His uncle was pinned between two mattresses. Both recovered from their injuries at a relative's home.

Matt suffered a cut on his head that required five staples and his feet were all cut up from the gravel road.

Tom Grazulis, author of THE TORNADO: NATURE’S ULTIMATE WINDSTORM, is a meteorologist and expert on tornadoes. According to Grazulis, somewhere around 400 feet is the general limit of being lifted and dropped in a tornado and surviving. The previously known distance record was held by a 9-year-old girl who, in 1955, survived a 1,000-foot ride. Basically, those who were tossed a quarter mile or more were either killed in the air or dead when lifted.

The following Tuesday, March 21, ABC did a segment on "Good Morning America" about Matt's tornado ride. He had also been contacted by representatives of "The David Letterman Show" about a possible appearance.

The only thing worse than being plucked out of your home, wearing only boxer shorts, and dumped a quarter mile away is being plucked out of your home, without the boxer shorts, and dumped a quarter mile away.

Quote for the Day -- “Climate is what we expect -- weather is what we get.” Mark Twain

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and where mobile homes are magnets for tornadoes. His blogs appear on several websites, including

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