Today is the 8th anniversary of a major tornado outbreak that hit from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico. Check out the video here from inside the school bus! This was the same year that we had the warmest March ever in Michigan (with temps. soaring into the 80s). The warm air brought the blossoms out too soon. Later, they frosted out leaving us with virtually no fruit crop that year. We also had the EF3 Dexter Twister and we had a crazy-hot week in July that saw the temperature hit 104° in Grand Rapids – the hottest temp. since 1936.
The original tornado count from March 2, 2012 of 160 was paired back to 70 separate confirmed tornadoes. There were also hundreds of reports of wind damage and large hail. I spent a couple of my vacation days driving down to see the damage from the tornadoes that hit Henryville, Indiana and West Liberty, Kentucky. My wife and I drove the length of the path of the Henryville tornado (nearly 50 miles) until we saw where it crossed the Ohio River and went into Kentucky. I talked with emergency responders, long-term relief workers and citizens who lived through the twisters. There were actually two tornadoes…the first, a massive EF4, the second a few minutes later was smaller and passed just hundreds of yards south of the first tornado.
This picture from KDVR is one of dozens that you can view at this link. The Henryville schools were destroyed and it was quite an accomplishment that they were rebuilt in time for the next school year which started in September. In the meantime, students were sent to Scottsburg where school time was split between the Scottsburg students (who started classes before sunrise) and the Henryville students who where they from early afternoon until evening. Two churches donated their gyms for up to 2 years (they only needed one year) as triage and supply centers. One of the leaders of the relief operation was a woman who had attended Aquinas College in G.R.
The gym we saw was an amazing and busy place. On one wall were dozens of cases of bottled water. On another wall were boxes and boxes of non-perishable food. Another wall was full of clipboards – labeled “plumber needed” or “chainsaws needed”. Many people came up I-65 from Louisville or came down from Indianapolis – volunteered their Saturdays to come and work in the relief effort. The relief effort was called “March to (2) Recovery.
I met Billy Graham. No, not that Billy Graham – this Billy Graham was a cook. He lived not too far from Henryville and (if I remember right) worked in Louisville. He noted that there were no supplies between Henryville and Maryville. So, on his own – he got someone to donate a big tent and he called everyone from big companies to smaller restaurants for donated food. When Billy wasn’t working – he was cooking food for the relief workers and victims at the tent east of Henryville.
There were stories…just down the road from Billy’s tent was the birth home of Harlan Sanders. A number of Sanders’ relatives were buried in a nearby cemetery, which was hit by the tornado. Billy got in touch with KFC. They said it probably wasn’t the best use of resources to rebuild the Sanders house…but they saw to it that the cemetery was cleaned up (many of the gravestones were tipped over) and they donated food.
They said two important things to do after the tornado was get helicopter (now it might be drone) close-up video of the tornado path – and – they need a curfew – not for looting, but for keeping everyone safe. Fences were down and quite a few animals – cows, horses, etc. were running loose. You could drive around a corner at night in the dark and run into a horse. There was also an effort to find lost pets. Workers needed to guard against broken glass, nails, splinters – you had to watch every step.
In West Liberty, Kentucky – the tornado hit the downtown…all the services there were destroyed. The bank was destroyed…but was operating out of a small trailer. They had worked feverishly to rebuild the drug store…people needed prescriptions. They told me that there were workers that had come from many different church denominations…there was a group of Amish, a group of Mormons, a group of Methodists…along with the Red Cross and Salvation Army. All the relief agencies coordinated, so they were all doing the tasks they were best able to do and doing what was needed.
This was the SPC severe weather outlook for the morning of March 2. There was an unusual High Risk Area. They did a good job forecasting this outbreak and issuing timely watches and warnings.
The final count that day was 2 EF4 tornadoes, 9 EF3 tornadoes, 14 EF2 tornadoes, 18 EF1 tornadoes and 27 EF0 tornadoes. As is usually the case, there were far more lower end tornadoes than high end (EF4) tornadoes…but the EF4 tornadoes most often do the most damage and cost more lives.
The tornado that hit Henryville struck on a school day at 2:15 pm. Those still at school ran to an interior room Links here to video and more stories on the tornadoes that day. Story 1 was the tornadoes and story 2 was the amazing effort that hundreds of people made to rebuild Henryville, Maryville and the other areas hit by the March 2 storms.