Elementary Supercell Delight

A recent posting of this meme on Facebook brought a flood of fond memories, and in more ways than you may think…

This never was more true than on 3 May 1979, less than three weeks after the Wichita Falls tornado left an indelible mark on my childhood.

During mid-late in the morning, I noticed the sky steadily darkening outside. The constant level of fluorescent light in the room seemed ever brighter as outdoor luminosity dimmed to intensely (and for many, frightening) low levels. It seemed like late twilight at 10:00 a.m., and streetlights came on brilliantly. After several close lightning strikes unleashed essentially instantaneous blasts of thunder over my elementary school, the principal announced we would be staying in the same rooms until the severe weather passed.

My teacher brought the TV in for keeping up with repeated tornado warnings for Dallas County and radar updates from Harold Taft on Channel 5 (KXAS). Never had I seen Harold’s tone so serious, as he urged folks in Dallas to take shelter. Three times we did just that, assuming standard crouched positions against the walls of interior hallways. One such occasion was after I looked out a back (W) window and noticed a narrow, short-lived funnel a few miles to the WSW–later found to have matched the time of an F1 tornado that briefly struck near Stemmons Freeway, just NW of downtown. [Click here for map of area tornadoes that day.]

From 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., we experienced some part of three separate HP supercells, with 5 tornado warnings for Dallas County, along with multiple episodes of both green sky outside and golfball-sized hail. It seemed as if distant sirens wailed all day long, when they could be heard above the din of the storms. Three tornadoes from two of those supercells struck parts of the city of Dallas. This disrupted lunch and class schedules.

At one particular point, there was deep darkness outside, hail banging on the windows, ear-splitting and window-rattling CGs every 5-10 seconds, girls crying, boys nervous…and me ecstatic, seated right by the windows with a big, contented smile on my face. This was a splendid school day indeed–no schoolwork got done, and there was little else to do but watch the storm and follow the sheltering herd when told. This was way too much fun for a storm-loving kid!

To top it off, a CG struck a pecan tree nearly overhead as I was running home through the N rim of the last storm (in violation of orders to stay at school past the final bell). Dazed, wet, ears sore, but otherwise intact, I got back up and proceeded home, not realizing yet that two nearby dogs had been killed. Good riddance too–they were ill-tempered Dobermans who had jumped their fence and come after me on a few occasions. Problem solved.

To me, at that time, the fact I also could have been killed was immaterial since, well…I still was alive. My mom didn’t appreciate that line of reasoning, however, and neither did the teacher who had noticed that I was missing from the last sardine-stack of sheltering pupils.

Yes, the TV in the classroom was a favorite setting, especially on one wondrously menacing weather day in May.


One Response to “Elementary Supercell Delight”

  1. tornado on October 15th, 2012 1:59 am

    Comment from Wes Youtsey:

    I was a sophmore at Lancaster High on that day and remember that day well. We ended up taking shelter at least twice, once in the morning and then again in the afternoon. I remember that both DeSoto and Wilmer Hutchins High Schools were both damaged during these storms. Most of the damage in Lancaster was on the south side of town, along and south of old Belt Line. The biggest thing that stood out to me was how dark the sky was.

    When I was at A&M, in ’85 or ’86, Al Moller came to talk to the student AMS chapter and I got a chance to ask him about that day. From what I remember, the NWS thought that the damage was related to the circulation of the thunderstorm meso, rather than a tornado or downburst winds. I think that the published Storm data description for that storm described something similar.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.