Monuments, tombstones toppled as cornstalks left standing

The unpredictibility of tornadoes can be seen in the aftermath of an EF-2 tornado that went through the Jefferson Cemetery in Jefferson County. Heavy momunments and tombstones are toppled from their bases Tuesday afternoon while a nearby field of cornstalks continue to bend in the breeze Wednesday afternoon. One monument can be seen standing tall as others near by look as if they were taken by a giant hand and just strewn across the ground.

I wonder how many of us looked to the skies this past week as more thunderstorms rolled through the area. After the recent tornadoes touching down so close to Brookville it was expected I guess to question whether another one would form.

But Friday’s storms brought thunder and rain but nothing else. For that we can all say thank God.

There were some dramatic photos last week of the tornadoes that touched down in Jefferson County and of funnel clouds seen in nearby counties as well. As I drove home to Falls Creek that Tuesday night, the skies were dark with barely a glimpse of moonlight showing through. As I drove along Interstate 80 the thought went through my head that if a tornado was forming I’d never be able to see it in time. The sky showed nothing but black and what bit of moonlight could be glimpsed was not enough for my eye to be able to pick out any rotating clouds. Of course, by that time, the storms had already moved through the area but that didn’t keep me from straining my eyes to try to pierce that veil of darkness.

As Jefferson County Emergency Management Director Tracy Zents noted last week if the tornado that had skipped over Brookville would have hit the town directly, it would have been disastrous. Instead it bounced over Brookville, crossing above the 911 center and touching down again on the other side of I-80.

Two things stood out for me in regards to the tornadoes. First that we were so lucky that most of the damage observed was in wooded areas. There were at least four houses that had minor structural damage but no homes were destroyed as we’ve seen time and time again when such events happen in the Midwest. Second was the reality that such displays by Mother Nature are truly unpredictable in terms of how they act.

The tornado sirens went off in Brookville three times that Tuesday as Patti Slaughter and I sat at our desks at 113 Main St. working on copy for the Jeffersonian Democrat. It was production night for us so we were typing away. Patti would take a look out the front of the office every now and then in an attempt to see if a tornado could be sighted. Wind and rain didn’t worry me but when it began to hail, I remembered that somewhere I had read or been told that hail would often accompany a tornado. That’s when I thought, “It must be close.”

Until that time, I was almost blasé about it. We can get that way in the news media I think, especially if we’ve never come close to a tornado before. I remember a tornado touching down in Elliot State Park, near Penfield, Clearfield County, many, many, many years ago. None, however, had ever come as close to DuBois or Falls Creek as this one did to Brookville, at least, not during the time I’ve worked as a journalist.

I didn’t know how close things had gotten until our landlord Galon Tonell stopped in. He had moved a refrigerator from the apartment above our office to the side porch a few days before. He had been working in the downstairs apartment that Tuesday. He stopped to tell us we could go to the basement apartment if things got bad for safety, which we appreciated. The amazing thing he told us though was that the wind had moved that refrigerator from the front of the porch to the back. Once I learned that the tornado had moved over a portion of Brookville and then the 911 center, I realized that must have been the time this appliance was shoved along the covered porch. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if one of us had stepped outside and gotten caught up in that wind tunnel.

But the storm was unpredictable in what it damaged. Photos of the Jefferson Cemetery in Clover Township, near the Village of Baxter, showed tombstones and monuments toppled over but in the background is a field of cornstalks that looks undamaged. Another photo shows trees snapped off high up on the tree trunks and tombstones pulled from the ground. In the midst of it all is a small American flag that still stands over a grave that looked to be untouched. It is these images that remind us how unpredictable Mother Nature truly is and how lucky or maybe blessed we are when disaster comes so close but then jumps over us.

It’s definitely a humbling experience to witness such forces of nature and realize our frailties. But a lot of good can come from those moments when we find ourselves faced with our own mortality.

Sometimes, I think, these “aha” moments are placed in our paths to jolt us out of our complacency and to make us take a look around us and see what we’ve put off that we could do to help others; to help our communities; to make a difference in just one person’s life.

Some of the good coming out of the recent tornadoes will be data that can aid the National Weather System in earlier warnings for our area. But it doesn’t have to end with just the data collected. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this brush with potential disaster also had us all taking stock of our lives and asking if disaster struck today, what have I (you, me, all of us) done for my neighbor or my community? Maybe more of us would volunteer with local charities. Or maybe we’d organize efforts to fill a need within our towns or even reach out to a family in need to give a helping hand.

Mother Nature is a force to be reckoned with but our efforts to do good can be so much stronger and have a greater impact. As with tornadoes that begin with one small breeze, for us one small act of kindness can start a whirlwind of kindness, volunteerism and giving. Now that would be a storm to see!

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