I was *in* the Bentonville tornado
Well, last night I was "in" the Bentonville tornado.
The previous day (3/11/06) the supercell which came from Cherokee County Oklahoma (Tahlequah) went right over our business in Centerton, AR, just west of Bentonville. That one was an HP event, and the front sheared anvil looked very smooth angling from the southwest. The rain was the heaviest I can recall since moving to northwest Arkansas in 2002 but once it left all I saw was a "rock-hard" updraft to the east. A tornado warning was issued shortly thereafter for eastern Benton County, and the storm remained "warned" all the way into eastern Missouri south of St. Louis. (I believe this may have been the storm which killed two people near St. Mary's, MO, sadly). There was some lightning with this storm but it didn't seem that intense.
Yesterday, like Saturday, was quite warm. Convection was evident by mid-morning on Saturday, but there was far less cloud cover yesterday. Checking radar before leaving our store I saw from storms firing up over what appeared to be a weak dryline (at the time the storms were not connected) but the radar images were far less impressive for our area than the day before.
Driving to the Wal-Mart just across the border in McDonald County, MO, I saw some lightning in the cloud tops over what appeared to be the Joplin area 50 miles north. Listening to AM 740 in Tulsa there were reports of rain and hail all over the city and two storms with strong rotation...one in Rogers County (headed most likely for Joplin or north) and one in Wagoner County, OK (good chance that it was headed our way). Returning home and walking my dog around 8:30 pm I noticed a strong inflow from the south and figured it was feeding the Joplin area storms. I talked with a neighbor about how I'd ducked into her garage with my dog in November when I saw power flashes to the west and heard an oncoming "waterfall" noise (turned out to be high winds which snapped a few lines that night). I told her hopefully tonight wouldn't be THAT bad. :roll:
The missus and I were watching "Crossing Jordan" while our NBC affiliate had tornado warned areas (Adair and Delaware County, OK, immediately to the east). Suddenly, Benton County got "warned" as well and they cut to local continuous weather. The meteorologist (Rick Katzfey of KNWA) started saying they were receiving "tornado on the ground" reports on Route 412 in Oklahoma west of Siloam Springs, AR (far southwest part of our county). He was showing doppler radar areas where strong rotation appeared to be. He said THIS storm, unlike the previous day's, was an LP cell and that one could probably see the oncoming wall cloud.
Immediately I bolted out the front with my daughter as my son said the sirens were sounding. The beautiful anvil was over us from the southwest, scalloped in appearance rather than smooth, with very active anvil crawler CC bolts. Our dog shot out the door but (praise God) he came back shortly, as did our cat. My son and I brought our pet rabbit and his cage in. The kids got in their respective shelters and my wife Sandra and I kept watch on the TV. The storm track on the TV looked like it would go just northeast of us. The indicated movement (as well as what I saw of the anvil) looked like it could go right over us.
Well, the local tower cams zeroed in on what they thought was a wall cloud. They thought the storm was nearing Bentonville. Then the power and TV went out and I told my wife to get in the bathroom. I wouldn't go outside, but in the dark I went straight to our living room window (facing south).
I saw what appeared to be three conical clouds bunched together like three great stalactites in front of a discolored mass that looked like rain...they were about a half-mile/-3/4 mile due south, and looked like they were headed for Wal-Mart's Technology center there. I kept waiting for them to rotate around one another but couldn't see that...then I started seeing what appeared to be a power flash or two. THEN I saw big square chunks of debris spin and lift into the air around the Technology center, and I headed for the bathroom. I prayed in the tub. My son prayed in the closet. All the time I could feel the house shaking just a bit and seemed to feel a few objects hit it.
Then I heard a strange noise...like a hissing sound. SSSSssss.....SSSSssss. Were these subvortices or suction spots? First thing I thought of was an old episode of "Star Trek" where there were people who had been "sped up" and their voices sounded like buzzing bees.
After the last hiss all was dead quiet as the low pressure was on top of us. I wasn't sure if we were going to get hit by another vortex but after a minute or two it appeared the action was over (the storm was moving about 50mph). I went to my north window and saw the wall cloud lit up by lightning and occasional explosions, moving off to the northeast.
Well, after everyone went out to take a look I was amazed...our neighbor to the west has a hole in his roof and his playhouse is smashed. Our neighbors to the north have gaping holes in their fences and several missing shingles. Our neighbor to the east had his roof scoured (on OUR side of the roof) to the wood, and the backglass of his van was blown out. And our neighbors to the south (closest to the main part of the tornado, apparently) have fences down, roof damage, etc. The house across the street to the south had a trampoline ring set right down over their tree. His hot tub was lifted up then dropped. A subdivision a mile east sustained heavy damage with roofs completely blown off. Some neighbors down the street lost windows and walls. We weren't in the hail area, either, yet north and west of us they got lots of it...my in-laws south of Gravette lost the globes off their lamp post from it.
And we've gotten away with (apparently) only damage to our central air unit on the east side of the house in east Bentonville. I can't tell any roof damage. Both our vehicles were left out and they were fine.
Prayer works...hope I'm never that close to a twister again.