This is National Severe Weather Awareness Week, and – with the observance underway – Rhodes Skinner still vividly remembers the events of nine years ago.
Skinner smelled the tornado before he ever saw it. A strong scent of pine and cedar trees suddenly filled the air and overwhelmed his senses outside his Moreland home off Highway 27 in 2009.
Skinner and his family left church early in hopes of avoiding the impending twister.
Instead, he inadvertently drove into the path of the storm.
“We pulled up in the driveway and there was no rain and no wind blowing,” Skinner remembered. “We were in a big F-250 truck. My son opened the passenger door, and the wind almost took it off its hinges. We all made a run for the house.”
Skinner was the last one inside, but his foot became stuck in the door when the winds created a vacuum-like suction through the house.
He managed to get free and jumped into a bathtub with his wife and four children in a downstairs, interior bathroom - with seconds to spare.
“It all happened so fast … the house started shaking and it blew all the doors open,” Skinner remembered. “My wife was yelling, ‘It’s going to blow the house apart!’ I looked up and I could see the sky.
“Everyone says a tornado sounds ‘like a train.’ It doesn’t sound like a train horn, but more like a train driving by. Not one train, more like 100 trains,” he added.
Skinner said the worst moment was realizing the storm was ripping apart his home, and there was nothing he could do.
“All you can do is hope for the best, and pray. My wife and I prayed, ‘God, deliver us from this or else we’re dead.’ Then we just all huddled in a tub and held on to each other,” he said.
The tornado disappeared almost as quickly as it came, Skinner said.
He and his family were shaken by what they had just endured, but they were alive and uninjured.
Skinner took inventory of his home and property, which included a pasture with horses.
The tornado blew off part of the roof and shifted the house off the foundation.
Clothes and linens were strewn into the trees behind the house, Skinner said.
While his family was not hurt in the tornado, his horses did not fare as well.
“One had a hole through him, another horse was blown sideways into a wire fence and couldn’t get free. A third horse had what I thought was a splinter in his lip. It was a tree branch that impaled his lip and cheek,” said Skinner.
Some of the damaged baffled the Moreland man.
“We had a cast iron tub that we used as a trough. The storm picked it up and threw it about 100 yards. But I had a plastic bucket in the back of my pickup truck, and it was still there after the storm,” he said.
The Skinners built a new home on the same property, but made one major modification. They now have a reinforced room in the basement that is the family’s designated “storm room.”
While the room brings them some comfort, Skinner said he and his family still get nervous during severe weather.
“... Every time you hear a tornado siren, it’s nerve-wracking,” he stated.
“We take tornado warnings very serious now. The storms happen way too fast for you to say, ‘Hey look, there’s a tornado, let me get out of the way.’ I smelled it before I even saw it.”
Skinner believed the intense pine smell was from the tornado obliterating trees before slamming into his house.
According to Coweta County Emergency Management Director Jay Jones, tornadoes cause the most weather-related deaths in Georgia.
Lightning is second, he added.
The county ranks 20th in the state for having the most tornadoes since the 1950s.
For more information about tornadoes, warnings and watches and how to put together a storm kit, visit ready.ga.gov or www.redcross.org.