CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – A family new to Kentucky received a terrifying introduction to tornadoes on Saturday after attempting to seek shelter during a Tornado Warning and stumbling upon the massive destruction left by an EF-3-rated tornado in Tennessee.
Hailee Oman was driving home from Nashville with her 8-year-old daughter, husband and her visiting parents when they got the Tornado Warning on their phones. She said they weren't seeing any signs of severe weather. They didn't know it, but they were driving toward the area where an EF-3-rated tornado caused devastating damage in Clarksville, Tennessee.
Montgomery County officials have confirmed three deaths in Clarksville, including one child, after a tornado on Saturday brought peak winds of 150 mph, damaging nearly 1,000 homes. About 60 dozen people were treated for injuries from the twister. According to the NWS, the EF-3 twister was a long-track tornado that traveled 42.91 miles between its starting point in northern Tennessee and where it finally lifted in southern Kentucky.
About a month ago, the Oman family moved from Arizona to Cadiz, Kentucky, just across the Tennessee-Kentucky state line and had no tornado experience. They've been through dust storms in Arizona and snowstorms in Utah, but a tornado?
"Do they just fall out of the sky when there's no weather? Should we be seeing these violent winds first? We had no idea what to expect or even look for," Oman said.
After driving for a while, Oman got off at the first exit near Clarksville to try and find a place to shelter, which is when the torrential rain started.
"As soon as we got off, within a couple of minutes, it just started raining like crazy out of nowhere," she said. "It got really scary at that point."
Still looking for a place to shelter, Oman said she continued to drive, and the sky turned eerily dark momentarily before the Sun returned.
"It was very strange. We didn't see any debris or anything like that. We just kept going," Oman said. "As the rain started to slow, we turned down this neighborhood, and it was completely obliterated."
After getting home, Oman and her husband contacted their church to offer their power tools and trucks to help clean up.
When they returned to that neighborhood, Oman brought her drone this time. Her aerial video revealed the second story of some homes that were destroyed, including one room Oman believes belongs to a little girl like her daughter.
"Their clothes are still hanging on hangers, even though the rest of the room is completely gone," Oman said. "It's heartbreaking."
If there is a silver lining to Oman's eye-opening encounter, she said they moved to the Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee area because of the community. They saw that community come together immediately in the aftermath of the tornado.
"After the rain cleared … it was just within an instant, people were tapping up windows," she said. "And this is as it just cleared. And, you know, and we're driving by. It was just that fast. Neighbors helping neighbors."
It was also an incredible learning experience about the danger of severe weather. Oman and her family now have a tornado plan in place.