Tuesday, May 24, 2011


When you think of tornadoes, you don't normally think of Arizona.  But they do sometimes happen here.

In the early morning hours of October 6, 2010, five tornadoes struck just West of Flagstaff, derailing a train and damaging over 100 homes in the tiny community of Bellemont -- where several of my co-workers and their families live.  Fortunately no one was killed or seriously injured, but the property damage was extensive.  One of our flight crew members found his boat in a neighbor's attic.

The National Weather Service later determined the tornado that hit Bellemont was a category EF-1 tornado, with winds reaching between 86-110 miles-per-hour.

On a flight this morning we passed over the path of one of these tornadoes.  At first it looked like one of the cleared strips of land beneath high-tension power lines, 50-100 feet wide and stretching for at least ten miles through Ponderosa Pine forest.  But as we flew closer we could see that the trees and underbrush hadn't been cleared; they'd been smashed flat.  Thousands upon thousands of giant trees had been knocked over in all directions.  Many had been smashed into jagged stumps surrounded by vehicle-sized splinters of wood.

At one point a second swathe of destruction paralleled the first for a mile or so, until it veered off and then disappeared just past the crest of a small hill.  The main bare strip continued north, straight as an arrow, in the direction of Bellemont.

The tornado that struck Joplin, MO two days ago was an EF-5, the strongest of six categories on the Enhanced Fujita scale, with winds estimated to be in excess of 200 mph (322 kph).  At least 124 people were killed, and more than 1,150 injured, making it the deadliest single U.S. twister since modern record-keeping began 61 years ago.

Today multiple tornadoes touched down in Oklahoma right after my mom called to tell me that she and my dad were on an airliner heading home from visiting relatives in the Tulsa area.  Our pilot and I watched some amazing, frightening live coverage of the storm system from KFOR TV, Channel 4, Oklahoma City.

Dad and mom made it home safely to Southern California a few hours ago.  As far as I know, all of our friends and relatives in Oklahoma are all right -- but there have been multiple fatalities across the state and elsewhere throughout the nation's midsection.

My hopes and prayers are with all of you who've been affected by these storms.  Since Sunday I've wished I could be out there, in Minnesota or Missouri or Oklahoma, helping out.  But for now I'm here in Cottonwood, on Angel 3, ready to help whoever may need help in this corner of the world.

Off duty in the morning.

Good night everybody.  Love and hugs.

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