Talk Description to Me

Episode 82 - Quad State Tornado

December 18, 2021 Christine Malec and JJ Hunt Season 3 Episode 82
Talk Description to Me
Episode 82 - Quad State Tornado
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Late in the night on December 10th and into the early morning of December 11th, a supercell thunderstorm ripped through four Mid-South American states. Multiple tornadoes within the storm devastated towns, cities, and rural areas, and took the lives of at least 90 people, with many more still missing.  This week, in an effort to provide contextual information to those profoundly affected by these events, JJ and Christine describe the visuals of tornadoes, and photos of the storm's aftermath.  Listener discretion is advised.

This episode discusses items listed on the Facebook group  Quad State Tornadoes Found Items. For more information, please visit:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/752733605686831/

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/TalkDescriptionToMe)
JJ Hunt:

Talk description to me with Christine Malec and JJ Hunt.

Christine Malec:

Hi, I'm Christine Malec.

JJ Hunt:

And I'm JJ Hunt. This is talk description to me where the visuals of current events and the world around us get hashed out in description rich conversations

Christine Malec:

Today we're going to be talking about the destructive weather that took place in the United States in the Midwest over the past weekend. Now, this is going to be a difficult episode to, to listen to and a difficult episode for JJ to be describing. And we understand that for some of you, this will be helpful and important information to hear about. And for others, it may be too fresh, and it's just not the right time to be to be hearing this content. But we're going to talk about the visuals of what happened and the aftermath. So, JJ, I know that you looked at some of the places where our where our podcast gets listened to. And there's definitely we have listeners, many listeners in the United States and particularly in the states that were affected, that's right eh?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, we have listeners in it throughout the areas that were hit hard by these storms, these tornadoes as a podcast. We're downloaded throughout Kentucky. We have listeners in Louisville, in St. Matthews, Bowling Green, in Jeffersontown. We have listeners in Richmond, Highview, Owensboro. We also have listeners in in Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas in Clarksville, Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Kennett, and through Mind's Eye radio, we have listeners all throughout the area. So really, to all of our friends that are affected by these storms, we really hope you are well. And please know that we're thinking about you.

Christine Malec:

Yeah, and you know, we we do this work, because we know, it's important to have access to the information. But sometimes it's true, the information is overwhelming. And it's not like a picture you can look at through your fingers as it were. And so if listening is not the right time. This episode is archived too. And it will be on the website for for later if later is the right time. JJ, can we start with just the visual of a tornado because it's the kind of thing that a sighted person recognizes. Without, you know, in Half a Second, you know what you're seeing, but can you give the visual of the the classic, what it looks like and then some of the things that were actually seen in the weather event on the weekend?

JJ Hunt:

Absolutely. So tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air that occur between thunder storm clouds up above and the ground at the bottom. So at the top high in the sky is the thunderstorm cloud and these, these thunderstorm clouds tend to be quite dark, they tend to be quite large. And then below that is sometimes what's called a wall cloud. This is an abrupt lowering of cloud at the base of the thunderstorm clouds. So the thunderstorm cloud up above is quite large. And then there's this little drop down of what's called a wall cloud. And it's from this wall cloud that that the funnel cloud which that's what we generally think of as the tornado, that's where this comes from. So if you imagine a plate or a bowl, imagine the underside of that plate or bowl, not the kind that has a smooth bottom, but one that has a little bass, you know like the it's like a short stubby pedestal so that the plate or bowl sits flat on a table. From the images I found online. That's what the wall cloud looks like that stubby little bass at the bottom of a large thunderstorm cloud. And then from there comes the funnel cloud. And we've talked a little bit about funnel clouds before but we haven't gone into detail. There are many different shapes to funnel clouds. It's not one thing there's there's the cone and V shaped funnel clouds. Those are the ones that most often come to mind. If you ask most sighted people to sketch a tornado, they're going to do something that looks like a cone or a V shaped the cone. That's like an ice cream cone like a sugar cone. It's got that kind Have a tapered angle to it. The V shape is a bit wider at the top, so it's more like the shape of a waffle cone. It's just wider at the top. There are our glass tornados, which are similar in width at the top and the bottom and then they are slightly tapered in the middle like an hourglass. And there are cylinder funnel clouds which really aren't tapered at all. They're the same width at the top, bottom and middle. And then there are rope tornadoes. So rope tornadoes are very, very thin, like a rope. And depending on how close you are or how far away you are, it might look like they skitter or slither through the sky. They are really quite bendable, and they move about in a seemingly random way. And then there are wedge tornadoes, wedge tornadoes are very wide at the base where it makes contact with the ground and even wider at the top. They are huge. I have seen videos of wedge tornadoes, where the point of contact with the ground is as large as a farmstead. So the farmhouse barns, all of the outbuildings, the kitchen gardens, all the tractors, all of the combines, all of those get covered by a single passing wedge tornado, they are absolutely massive, and wedge tornadoes. When you're watching a video of the more I imagine, if you were in the terrible position of seeing one of these in person, they are menacing just because of their colossal size. Visually, they give the impression of being unstoppable. And they're so big, they look like they're moving in slow motion if you're far away, whereas rope tornadoes at the other end of the scale are so small, that they're skinny. And the way they dart around makes them unpredictable. And they're smaller, so they appear to move more quickly. They dart around, and it's that unpredictability, you don't know what they're going to do, you don't know where they're going to go. That's what makes them terrifying. And then there's the point where the funnel cloud makes contact with the ground there, there's often a smaller cloud. This is where dirt and debris are being churned up by the incredibly high winds. This is the debris cloud. And any kind of tornado of any shape can have a significant debris cloud. So those in general terms, that that's what tornadoes look like. There were dozens, I believe dozens of tornadoes that were part of this super storm. And I don't know what all of them looked like. I have seen videos of some specific ones. I saw a video filmed in Sacramento, Kentucky. And this is someone was filming with a cell phone at night. Of course, a lot of this was happening at night. So the sky is dark in this one video filmed in Sacramento. For most of the video, the screen is black pitch black. Because it's filmed at night with these dark thunderstorm clouds overhead. So mostly the screen is black. And what you hear is the dull roar of the wind. And it's kind of sounds like you're inside of an airplane. It's that constant, dull roar of wind. And then in this video, some very small red lights appear at the right and cut across the screen to our left these little tiny red lights move and what they are the headlights of a passing car. So that's the first indication of scale that you get in this in this image in this video. And then suddenly, the lightning flashes. And for just a split second, we see a large wedge shaped tornado in the distance across this flat rural field beyond where the with a passing car has come in. And then it's dark again because the lightning is gone. And that's how the entire video unfolds with glimpses of this huge tornado under this storm cloud that absolutely eclipses the entire upper third of the of the video screen. In you're only getting glimpses of this in the flashes of lightning. It's It's terrifying. It's like a horror movie.

Christine Malec:

There's one thing I'm a little confused about because the the tornado itself is you describe it as the rushing of wind and air. And so how is it visible? Like what makes it visible to the eye and what color is it? And does it look like a typical cloud color that you'd see in the skies or just like a rain cloud that's been squeezed into I'm having a little trouble conceptualizing how it looks like something if it's wind?

JJ Hunt:

If it's wind, yeah. Great question. So so the thunderstorm cloud up on top. It has has the look of irregular but very, very, very dark cloud. So it's it's got that kind of that it's it's got the dark color, it's got the shape of a regular cloud, the debris cloud at the base usually has some kind of brown color to it, because it's pulling up dirt and mud and earth, and debris.

Christine Malec:

Yeah.

JJ Hunt:

If it's going through a town, it's tearing up houses or farms, it's got that debris. So what you're seeing in there is a lot of the dirt. So it's a dusty or looking entity, the funnel cloud itself, there's its moisture, so there's a lot of moisture in that.

Christine Malec:

Oooh!

JJ Hunt:

It's water condensation. And in fact, I think the the technical name is a water condensation funnel. And so a lot of what you're seeing is, is moisture being whipped around in circles. So sometimes you are seeing actual debris being pulled up into that funnel. But a lot of the time that debris is in is in the cloud that's making contact with the ground. But it's it's an almost opaque, there's so much liquid, and there's so much moisture and so much wind whipping it in circles, that you can see if it's daytime, you can see the swirling action, you can see the movement of the condensation being whipped around at night. You don't see that at night, it just looks it looks fairly solid. In fact, in one video that I saw the same kind of lightning effect where you only get to see the tornado when when the lightning flashes. But because this is such a wide open area, sometimes the lightning would flash behind the camera so behind us, and you can't see the the funnel cloud only when the lightning flashed behind the funnel cloud. Did you see the silhouette? So you had this dark purple sky flashing behind the funnel cloud this big wedge shaped cloud. And then you could see it looked solid it looked it looked completely solid, this tornado shaped that was slowly slowly slowly moving toward but only seeing again, in these flashes.

Christine Malec:

We've talked about this aspect of the visuals of news before which is where are most of the images coming from? Are they news broadcasts or are they personal cell phones and cameras?

JJ Hunt:

So with this, with this storm, there were there are people who are filming with their cameras of of, you know, within the storm, people who are actually driving in their cars and trucks and they stop at the side of the road to film a tornado or coming up to their windows and filming as as a tornado approaches and then hopefully getting to somewhere safer than that. And then there are the news outlets that certainly are they are buying this footage. But they're also you know, sending their own they have their own crews that are that are taking some of the images of the actual tornadoes. And then in the aftermath, it's in the aftermath that we see a lot of the professional photographers in the in the news outlets taking pictures of the devastation. The New York Times and The Washington Post in particular, I found both of those large news outfits had excellent aerial photography and satellite images in their aftermath coverage. And I found those really helpful in trying to get a sense of the devastation. Because it's one thing to take a picture from ground level and to see that personal destruction, you know, when you're when you're on the ground level, and you can take a picture that's a photograph a professional photograph that has an individual in it, who is experiencing who's suffering, and you see the the pile of debris behind them, you certainly understand how this affects an individual. But when you get the aerial photography, you get this the before and after satellite images from up above. That's from a visual standpoint, when I start to realize just the scale of this destruction and devastation. It was just incredible. It was just awful.

Christine Malec:

Satellite images? So help me frame that. Like what would you see in a satellite image? I'm having trouble I guess I don't have a good, proper sense of the scale of the destruction.

JJ Hunt:

So the satellite images, these aerial images, not all are on a continental scale, you can really get quite close. So some of these aerial images or satellite images come so they're basically on the scale of you could take an image of a farm or a farmstead you can get that kind of detail, but it's directly overhead so something quite clinical about the view. I've got an image here a kind of a before and after After aerial images of the manette Manor, this is a nursing home in manette, Arkansas. And in the before image, this, this nursing home the building looks really crisp and clean because you're directly overhead. So you can see the straight edges of the white flat roof against what looks like from this height anyway to be a manicured lawn. So the lawns look really green, the roof looks really white, and again, crisp edges, the clean rectangular Parking Lot out in front of the of this nursing home. And then it's this is this is a rural area, it's across the street from a few large houses, I'm guessing a small development judging by the fact that all of the rooms on these large houses are uniform grey rooftops. And beside the nursing home, it appears to be a row of grain silos, I'm guessing and they are in a gray gravel lot. And in all of those buildings are surrounded by this by mossy green farm fields. And this was a photo taken, I believe it was in February of 2021. And then there's the after photo, and the after photo was just taken a couple of days ago. And the outline of the nursing home itself is unclear. The the roof is gone. So the white, the clean white rooftop is is completely gone in the footprint of the building is is muddied by the pile of debris in the missing walls. So you it's it's it's difficult to even pull, you know pinpoint the footprint of the building. And there's this path of debris that's leading up into our left. It's like the tornadoes, footprints leading us away from the scene of the crime. And the silos rooftops they appear to be gone. The gravel lot that surrounded the silos, which was once gray is now Brown, because so much mud got churned up to gravel got whipped away, parts of the houses across the street, appear to still be standing. But the damage is unclear. It's so muddied because of all of the debris and chaos. You don't get those same crisp, clean, easily identifiable distinct structures and spaces that you get in the before image. So that's what uh, that's what the aerial images can show us about this. And then you get a different kind of aerial image like the drone footage. So both the New York Times and The Washington Post had drone photography, and drone videos, so they would fly over some of these towns with drones and film towns that are basically gone. The devastation from this, the images in the video of the devastation is it's total. It's just total. So I got one picture here, and an aerial photo from Morton's gap Kentucky. The landscape in this picture is brown, quite a bit of dull green in there but browns and greens. There are roads and attract a train track that snaked from our lower left toward our upper right, there are other roads, but the main roads come from lower left to upper right. And I think most of these roads would have been paved, but some appear to be covered in dirt. So it's hard to tell. And dotting this rural landscape are our piles of debris. And it's only because those piles are at the ends of driveways that a viewer can tell that those piles of debris were once houses.

Christine Malec:

Oh my gosh!

JJ Hunt:

There's nothing else that indicates that these were houses. There's no more frame. There's no more structure to just piles but they are at the ends of driveways. And on a road beside this big long train track is a train that is at least nine carriages long and it's lying on its side. It hasn't tipped over on the track. It's off the track. It's off of the slightly raised gravel corridor that tracks run along. It's been moved, it must be 20 feet to the side.

Christine Malec:

Gasp!

JJ Hunt:

And it's lying on a road beside the train tracks. And there are bare trees all around some of the bare trees are standing some of them are lying on the ground, not a leaf on any tree of course, I actually saw another image of a tree. This one in Dawson springs Kentucky and this is a close up this photograph is taken from the ground. It's a close up of bare branches set against the blue sky and at first glance it looks like they're just a few Orange Leaves, kind of the last leaves of the fall clinging to these otherwise bare branches And it looks like maybe there's some pink evening sunlight shining down on them. And then you realize that those aren't leaves. It's fiberglass insulation from a house that's been shredded by a tornado.

Christine Malec:

Gasp! Oh! Oh my gosh.

JJ Hunt:

So those are the kinds of photos. Here's a photo from Dawson springs. This is again, a photo taken from the ground. And it features five concrete front steps, just a very simple set of concrete steps, the kind that would lead to a front door, but there's no door, there's no house, they're just five steps standing at the front of a flat field of debris. And I can't even call it a pile. It's just a flat smattering of debris, there's some bricks, some two by fours, some pipes, some wires, there's a car tire in the middle of it. There's nowhere near enough material in this field of debris to constitute an entire house, most of the house is just is just gone. All that's left are five front steps. And this smattering of debris. You know, often it is understood some people talk about the fact that tornado destruction can be so random, right? It can destroy one house, but leave the house next to it unscathed. That's often how we think of the way tornadoes tear through a town or a village or countryside or whatever. But most of the images that I'm seeing that's not what these show these show near complete devastation. So entire neighborhoods, communities leveled, leaving nothing but scattered debris. And that's not something I'm I'm used to seeing, you know, I, there's a video aerial drone footage from Mayfield, Kentucky, and it shows this devastated neighborhood, it looks like a rural area with lots of open green space. So not a neighborhood with distinct lots with front yards and backyards. But, you know, houses and buildings in an area of open green space. And very few buildings remain that can be identified as buildings, it's just scattered debris around this green space. And there are square patches of flat concrete. And these are the foundations of houses. And they look fairly clean and bare compared to the littered green space around them. And so as the drone moves over and films from up above, which is what we're seeing I, you know, I'd be hazarding a guess to say maybe 100 feet in the air, so we're fairly low to the ground. And that's what we're being shown is the utter destruction of towns, utter destruction of warehouses, utter destruction of neighborhoods, as opposed to the individual buildings that are often torn down. That's that's what I'm seeing. I'm sure there's also the other but what what news is focusing on is the utter devastation from from these storms?

Christine Malec:

Now, the hardest thing to talk about is the human cost and the human suffering. And I always go back to my outage from Mr. Rogers, who said that, when terrible things happen, one way to cope is look for the helpers. And so is there are there images of recovery and the recovery efforts that that are being circulated?

JJ Hunt:

There are. I mean, they'll talk about... it really is... it's hard to talk about. We'll try and find ways that we can talk about the loss and also find, as you say, find those moments of hope. I mean, 88 people confirmed dead at this moment, I believe, 74 in Kentucky alone, over 100 people still missing in Kentucky. I mean, it's just... the numbers are awful. But the found objects. So there are there are images of people trying to help their images of people trying to search in these debris fields. And people are not only being found alive, but belongings are being found and all over I mean, because of the way tornadoes work they not only they not only tear down houses and shred and destroy but some of that some of those items are picked up and carried away. And I came across a Facebook group that's been set up to help match these found treasures and their owners. It's this it's this group called Quad State Tornado Found Items. We'll link to it in our show notes. And there people are posting images of the things that they find, like photos and, and other kinds of objects, things that have been ripped up by the storm and carried away. And so people can go and search to see if anything that belongs to them or their family or people that they've lost to see if any of those items have been found somewhere else in the country. So some of these stories are, I mean, they're just, they're just gut wrenching. There's a story of a couple named Judy and Billy Miller, a couple in their early 70s, who had been married for 56 years. Both of them died in Kentucky. Their house was demolished, right down to its cinderblock foundation. And in the days after the tornado, their photos began popping up in neighboring states. A woman found a photo on her windshield clear across

Christine Malec:

Gasp! Oh my gosh. the state. There was a farmer in Indiana who found a photo of this couple as young parents. There's an image of the photo in a news article that I saw. The photo itself is it's torn at the upper left and there are scratches across this color image, but it's largely intact. And there they are Judy and Billy, both light skinned, they're dressed in blue jeans. They're looking directly at us, sitting on a wooden porch swing. Judy has her arm around Billy and she's got a tight lipped grin. short dark hair kind of narrowed eyes as she's as she's grinning. And she's holding what looks like a white towel in in her one free hand. And Billy is sitting beside her and he's wearing a checkered shirt and and a really tall black baseball cap that's perched high on his head. And he's got a baby in his arms, and decidedly nervous grin with a pinched line between His eyebrows. That's one of the photos that was found of Judy and Billy and eight of their photos were found in two different states. From is actually their granddaughter who spotted them on the Facebook group she was she went to this Facebook group having just lost her grandparents in this storm. And she went on to the Facebook group and was able to identify eight photos of her grandparents.

JJ Hunt:

Including photos of her with her grandparents.

Christine Malec:

Ugh.

JJ Hunt:

They were scattered across two states. I went to this Facebook group there are 66,000 members as of this morning, Wednesday morning. And the photos as you scroll through the things that people are posting are, I mean, sometimes they're sometimes they're wonderful, and sometimes they're heart wrenching. There's a photo that someone posted of one clear plastic sandwich bag inside of a second clear plastic sandwich bag, and it's labeled with black magic marker, Jacob Lee Burden 6/18/14 - First haircut.

Christine Malec:

Gasp!

JJ Hunt:

And it's been marked found. So someone lost someone kept the hair clippings of their baby's first haircut, and it got swept away. And it's been marked found someone found it. There was a photo of an older middle aged white couple. He's wearing a yellow shirt with a zigzagging black line across the stomach. This is a Charlie Brown t shirt. And he's actually got a black magic marker, Charlie Brown kiss curl at the top of his balding head. And in the woman she's wearing a pink crayon costume with a pointy pink hat and she's got both of her arms around them. She's kind of holding them tight squeezing her squeezing the guy beside her as they stand side by side and they're both smiling really broadly looking at us. There's an ultrasound for Jennifer Youngblood, this is an ultrasound from 1988 that blew across the state and was found and it's on the site.

Christine Malec:

sigh

JJ Hunt:

There's a report card from Mullenburg county school. This is a yellowed sheet of paper, parts of this report card form are filled out on a typewriter and parts are filled in in this in this very teacherly perfect blue ink handwriting. And the teacher Miss Gladys Devine at the Bremen school has officially promoted Larry Grissom from fifth grade to sixth grade May 27 1964.

Christine Malec:

Oh my gosh.

JJ Hunt:

The things that are on this website... There's a handmade quilt in a square block print. It's colorful, but it's caked with dirt, and someone took a photo of it in the farm field in which they found it. There are scores of photos, notices about lost and missing pets. Scrolling through this list, I mean... Like I said, there are moments of heartbreak. But, but there's real joy and hope to be found in there as well.

Christine Malec:

When we do episodes on topics like this, JJ, I always want to say on behalf of me and everyone who's listening, that we so are grateful that you are able to go through and take the time. And it's I know, it's gut wrenching, and you have to look at it, think about it sorted, talk about it, write notes, describe it, and then say the words and I know that I'm speaking for all of the listeners when I say thank you for doing that, because that's not easy. And so all of our our thoughts and hopes for peace and safety are with our listeners in that area. We hope you're loving the show. We really enjoy the challenge of putting together a new episode each week. To ensure that our efforts are worthwhile. We need to reach as many people as possible. That's where you come in, help spread the word. Maybe send a podcast link to three friends, post about the show on local listservs and Facebook groups. Perhaps tweet about a favorite episode and tag some followers you think might like it, or show your love by becoming a patron. The broader our reach, the longer we can stay Boyd and keep afloat. With your support. We'll be around for a long time. Thanks for listening and staying connected on social media. It's what makes this so rewarding for us have feedback or suggestions of what you'd like to hear about. Here's how to get in touch with us. Our email address is talk description to [email protected] Our Facebook page is called Talk description to me. Our website is talk description to me.com and you can follow us on Twitter at talk Description.

Tornadoes
Quad State Tornado videos
The aftermath
Found items