"Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a farm and live entirely surrounded by cows–and china." Charles Dickens

March 5, 2012

Before the Storm

Thickening cumulonimbus clouds over our
knob field, to the south, later in the afternoon.
It began with a "7" on the Dr. Greg Forbes' now infamous TOR:CON scale. Before bed on Thursday I thought it an unusually high number for south-central Kentucky. By Friday morning, Forbes had bumped it up to a 9 out of 10 and we were clearly in the bulls-eye for what promised to be a dangerous and active weather day. A "9" is a 90% chance of having a tornado within 50 miles of your location. Not only was this a high number but it was March 2, not April. Tornado season had arrived a full month early, capping off the oddest winter in recent memory (for everyone, it seems).

My adrenalin was already going full-tilt and would remain that way for the rest of the day and into the evening. All of my life I have had recurring tornado dreams, left over from being truly terrified of their possibility in suburban Akron, Ohio (where, really, they are extremely rare) and the realization that, unlike a hurricane or large-scale snowstorm, they are random events and still unpredictable. We can only predict the conditions and the potential. It's like waiting for the angry fingers of something on high to come down and randomly play with us, poke at us or sometimes create complete devastation and chaos. As the local Lex 18 weather station kept repeating, "Stay Weather Aware!" That's really all you can do (that and watch Weather Channel like an obsessive, hyper-aware crazy woman!).

Since moving to Kentucky four years ago and following spring weather outbreaks more closely, I've never seen a 9 on the TOR:CON index. During the morning hours Forbes further predicted the potential for "dozens" of tornadoes and several sustained tornadoes of longer duration (and above **F-3) before the day ended on Friday. You have to take this kind of prediction seriously and Dr. Forbes is always serious (after all, he studied with Dr. Fujita and helped develop the famous **Fujita scale of tornadic wind speeds that were devised after the "Super Outbreak" of April 1974, which also severely impacted Kentucky).

All day it was blustery, balmy and filled with gathering cumulonimbus clouds. Most of the time it was even sunny with patches of blue sky. It was hard to imagine the potential for severe weather because it wasn't even hot. In reality, the advancing cold front–that cut an angular swath from the west, with temperatures behind it in the 40s–and the warm winds coming up from the Gulf provided a "perfect storm" scenario that would only develop later in the day. Coupled with the split in the jet stream, literally to the north and to the south of Kentucky, and you had all the right ingredients for a severe tornado outbreak at Ground Zero. 

When Jim Cantore is heading to your state, you know it's going to be big.
At one point in the day the radar map looked like this: Kentucky seemed like
it was safe with the winds and bad stuff all around it, or coming up the Ohio River.
One of us said, "But there's no clouds here!" I said, "It's more like the eye of the storm."

I worried about our cows but most seemed to find cover in low areas.

Early in the morning we had a hard thunderstorm with much rain and a bit of hail that came in advance of the cold front. The rest of the day there was almost an electric quality to the air, like you knew something would happen. My husband and I had just made the decision, around 11:30, to get our boys early from school (based on the predictions) but the school (and other schools in the region) beat us to it. By 12:30pm the boys were home and we were all on the farm doing necessary chores and some yard and porch stuff (that, frankly, I should have done last fall). The breezes and winds were picking up to the south but there wasn't a storm cloud in sight. We battened down the hatches, secured gates and doors, and we waited. I even unplugged my computer and put it in a canvas duffle bag, along with some other stuff, in case we had to leave quickly (we have no cellar and just a small storm cellar to the east of our doublewide).

Looking north towards Carter Ridge, and Mintonville, just over the line
in southern Casey County. Green River Knob is off camera to the left.

While watching the local and Weather.com coverage and radars, every hour or so I would drive around our knob field and over to the lookout from our ridge towards the northern part of our county. There I can see Green River Knob (the highest point in the state, west of the eastern Kentucky mountains) and a ridge that divides Casey and Pulaski counties towards Mintonville: this is often the dividing point for severe weather as it had been only two days before on Wednesday when we had another bout of tornado weather that skirted us to the northwest (and caused hailstorms in nearby Casey County). Five years ago, in early April, there was a tornado that danced through the Mennonite valley in Casey County, hopped around Mintonville and on down Carter Ridge, a mile as the crow flies, just to our north. 

The view towards Mintonville a few hours later.

I will write about the storm itself in my next installment. This is not to minimize the major, catastrophic events and tragedies suffered by others in the state and in other areas hit by this storm, but to share our own experiences, which were blessedly safe.

You come back when you're ready!



  1. Great photos. I can't wait for the rest of them so don't dawdle, damn it!

  2. It's next on my list, after a wedding tomorrow!


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