It was unusually warm for December. We hadn’t seen my cousin in awhile and thought it might be nice to head over to the lake since it was such a nice day. Reports were that there was a storm brewing but that it wouldn’t come until evening. I heard the words “big event” in the forecast so I knew we needed to hightail it home before dark. Weather in the 70s in December in Kentucky is unusual, but not scary most times. It means that rain will come when the cold front dives down from the north and we will bet getting lots of rain or snow…little did we know what we’d be getting just a few hours later.
Mother Nature had done its job so far. The trees had been stripped of their splendor and looked like matchsticks. The look of the bluegrass state was more of a brownish tone now. Eleven days until actual winter would hit, or so the weather calendar said. People were milling about getting up their Christmas decorations outside while the warm weather lasted. Just a normal Friday.
The thing about Mother Nature is that she is fickle. Her wrath can hit in an instant and by 9:30 pm she was in full furor. Watching from the relative safety of Paducah, twenty miles or so from Mayfield, I listened intently as the storm had formed into a “Monster”. This pronoun was given to this storm by the Weather Authority in Paducah after seeing its signature on multiple radars. It had started in Missouri and was traveling at about a 45 degree angle up through west Tennessee to Western Kentucky. This storm was unique in the fact that it never left the ground. As it intensified to a mile wide and carrying a debris ball 30,000 feet up into the night sky we knew we were in for destruction. It traveled over 170 miles in total and brought the total destruction of Mayfield, Kentucky.
Mayfield was a place I was familiar with. Moving to Kentucky in 2014, we lived on a 10 acre farm just five or so miles south. Mayfield was where we went to the grocery store, Lowes, gas station, Ace’s Pizza (my favorite Chicago Pizza place) and many other small businesses for daily doses of quaint. It sported a beautiful court square around the 1880s courthouse and extended toward Paducah having a north side that had been hit by a tornado just a few years ago that registered F2. This F4 monster was much more intense and ended up taking out that beautiful court square and the courthouse with it. Police, fire, businesses, all gone. The matchstick trees were uprooted and broken, total destruction.
It occurred to me as I watched the reports that my cousin, whom I visited that afternoon, was now in the path of the storm. After it ravaged Mayfield it headed northeast towards Kentucky Lake. Just past Moors Landing it hit and did some of the same damage. There were tense times as I had talked to him moments before and they were in the basement with their dogs. I said call me back when you’re safe. Cell service was cut off. A long night passed as the monster moved through Princeton, Dawson Springs and eventually past Bowling Green. Would it ever end? Was it’s power unending? These were questions many were asking and answers were slow in coming as we all stood by and watched it weave its path across the Commonwealth.
Reports of those trapped at the candle factory came into focus. It was dark, so seeing the police and fire’s flashing lights were like Christmas trees so carefully assembled, but now in a heap or three counties away caught up in the debris ball. The response was immediate. Over the next 24 hours hundreds of people lost their homes and businesses to the “once in a lifetime” storm. First responders searched for the lost and some of the trapped were freed. Churches, the post office, soccer field, etc. all gone. Frantically, loved ones tried to contact family, cell towers were down. The stress was even in the voices of the forecasters, one even lost his voice after hours of coverage.
As I thanked God for sparing us, I prayed for those in need. Some had lost it all, including their lives. How would it ever be the same? It wouldn’t.