Tornado Strikes Atlantic Area

Journalism students write about their experiences during the Dec. 15 tornado.


By Jaci Brosam, Anna Cesaro, Kyra Chase, Lexi Christensen, Mason McFadden, Alyssa Neal, Claire Pellett, Abbi Richter, Alexis Richter, Lillian Richter, Kyra Rink, Alex Sonntag, Bennett Whetstone and Riley Wood.

I was outside when the tornado sirens went off, and my mom screamed my name to get inside. My bedroom is in the basement, so we went into my bedroom, and we started watching a movie. About five minutes into the movie, the wind started to get really bad, and we started hearing tree branches hit my window. The power went out for a couple of seconds and then came back on. My mom then wanted to go into the family room, which is in the basement and there is only one tiny window. So we sat there for a good 30 to 35 minutes.

— Jaci Brosam, sophomore

Yesterday I experienced my first tornado. I never thought I would experience something like that in my life. I felt so nervous because I had no idea what was going to happen. My host sister is 7 and it was her first tornado too. We were both nervous, so before the tornado actually started and sirens went off, we started watching her favorite movie to calm her down. I felt as if I was in a movie with the sirens going off, the media talking about the tornado, phones getting emergency notifications. I remember watching the sky change in a minute: it was pinch black and it felt like midnight. The leaves from the backyard started blowing everywhere and the tree branches were shaking incredibly hard. When we went to the basement and the tv turned on, the news on channel 13 was talking about how the tornado was coming through Atlantic. It was so surreal to me that it was hard to believe that I was actually living that moment. Fortunately it went by really fast. Seeing all the trees on the streets and light poles bent down on the streets made it feel more real. It was scary, but at the same time it was cool to see something like that. It was part of my experience an Italian exchange student in the States and I will remember it forever.

— Anna Cesaro, junior exchange student from Italy

A funnel cloud passing by Chicago Road north of Atlantic was captured on film by senior Keith Archibald on Wednesday, Dec. 15. (Keith Archibald)

It got dark really fast. The wind blew and blew all night long. The sirens went off. My phone buzzed with a tornado warning. Then it buzzed again with a tornado watch. The power flickered on and off all night long. HyVee got on fire. Windmills fell down everywhere. Cows were in town because fences broke and they got loose. Farms and houses all over are damaged. We sat outside and waited for the tornado. I called my grandparents to make sure they were okay and in the basement. My mom was worried about her animals and making sure they were okay. Dad sat outside watching and watching. After the storm we drove around town to see the damage and went to the farm to see what happened there. Everything turned out okay.

— Kyra Chase, junior

I’ve never been in a tornado because I’ve lived in Atlantic all my life and Atlantic hasn’t had a tornado in 30 some years, so it was a wild experience. We were just at home and we were getting the mobile warnings for the severe winds and thunderstorms but we weren’t super worried since there hadn’t been a tornado in Atlantic for a long time. My brother and I had gone outside to move his car out from under a tree because the tree was old and already falling down prior to the storm. We had to jump his car from mine so I was pulled up next to him and we were standing outside. He was jumping his car and I was holding my hood and just as his car started the sirens started blaring. We rushed to get the cables back into my trunk and to move the cars. My brother and I rushed back into my house and started gathering things we needed. My aunt had to come to my house because she doesn’t have a basement so we had to get her and her kids into the basement. Once the storm had passed, my mom’s boyfriend took us out to look at all the damage around town. We saw a lot of trees down and a couple torn up sheds.

— Lexi Christensen

I was home alone with my 7-year-old twin brothers, no parents, and I didn’t think much would happen, but it was getting dark really fast. I started to get ready for the worst. I put a whole bunch of snacks and bottled water down in our basement. I also brought down candles and flashlights for light, a portable charger, a pillow, and a blanket. We hadn’t gone downstairs yet because our basement was mainly a bathroom with two storage rooms, and I knew that if I put the twins downstairs they would become restless before anything actually happened. So we waited on the first floor. I was getting increasingly nervous with no parents, and when I got the actual tornado warning, I took them downstairs. My step-dad came home and I felt relieved, but he then took Jacob, one of the twins, and said he was going to take him to get his glasses fixed real quick. I stood there in shock at the stupidity of the idea, knowing that stuff was about to go crazy, and before I could say anything he had already left. Probably two minutes after he left the sirens went off, and I was alone with Ethan again, and I started to panic. Not only was I the only one here with this kid, my step-dad had just taken Jacob into a car when everything started to happen. My step-dad came back just a few minutes later, and I calmed down a little, and shortly after that my mom came home too. I was still really worried because I couldn’t get in touch with some of my friends to check in on them. I had never really been at home with the belief that a tornado would probably happen.

— Mason McFadden

When there was first news of a tornado, I didn’t think it would happen at all. Every time we’ve ever been in a watch since I’ve been alive, nothing has ever actually happened. But as the minute hand went around the clock, and the sky darkened faster and faster, my anxiety started spiraling. I called my dad and he kept me up to date with everything. I also kept the news on and listened carefully. It was when the sirens went off that I began to shake. My mom said, “Okay, there it is, go to the basement.” My little brother was taking the deepest nap of his life, and had to be awakened to something that probably scared the life out of him. We went downstairs, and I started to sob. The rest of my family didn’t really worry, and my brother was totally fine. I was insanely stressed. I was worried about my dad and my other loved ones. I just wanted everyone to be safe. After the storm, I went to see damage, and it made me very sad. The whole experience was crazy, and it will certainly be the talk of small town Atlantic for a while.

— Alyssa Neal

At 4:55 pm my dad, mom, sister, and I were standing at the front door watching the tornado tear through Atlantic. We saw another one forming west of us near my grandparents’ house. My mom decided that is was time for us to head downstairs. My dad was on the phone with my grandpa but lost connection with him after awhile. The storm passed over our house and my dad reconnected with my grandpa. Grandpa said the windows in their house were blown out. We immediately headed over to their house despite the storm. We couldn’t even get to their house because of all of the debri on the road. We cleared this off and headed over to the house. There was glass everywhere, covering the carpet and thrown across the house. The tree was down and electricity was out. Outside the white picket fence that welcomed us every visit was torn apart and the old oak tree was destroyed. The two towering silos were torn down to rubble and the calf shed was nowhere to be seen. The hog houses that had been there for 50 years were gone and debri was scattered everywhere. The next day we spent cleaning up as much as we could.

— Claire Pellett

After school we moved our dog and all the stuff we wanted/needed to my grandma’s house. It kept getting darker and darker. Then the siren belted really loud. I was upstairs trying to get my mom and grandma to come to the basement, but they were grabbing boxes of family pictures and yearbooks. Thirty minutes later the siren went off again, and this time it was getting even worse. We were sitting in the basement living room when I heard big crashes of tree branches falling and stuff hitting the house. My mom said “get in the closet” so my sister and I went in the closet while my older sister, my mom, and my grandma stayed in the living room. My sister kept going in and out of the closet and I finally yelled at her, “MADDIE, GET IN THE FREAKING CLOSET.” We covered ourselves up with a sleeping bag so if the tornado came we couldn’t get scratched up as bad. I called my dad and said, “Are you in the basement? If not, get down there! We’re in the closet at Grandma’s.” My sister, mom, and grandma were sitting in the living room watching Omaha news. My mom said, “The tornado is past us.” And then I cried and was so relieved to hear that it had passed, but I still didn’t leave the closet until I checked my phone and asked multiple times. This was my first ever tornado and I’m glad it didn’t hit town.

— Abbi Richter

My entire family went down to our basement and we had all of our phones going off with the tornado alarm. We had blankets and flashlights. Our power was out for two hours. We have a neighbor and his farm is completely destroyed. It must have just missed our house. But all of our neighbors’ barns and animals are ruined. He came by to check on us to see if we were okay after it blew over. We were being told what to do if everything hit the fan and how to hit the emergency sos button on our phones.

— Alexis Richter

I was watching the weather earlier in the day and thought about going into work (HyVee) but I had a bad feeling about it, so I called in. I went home around 3:30 to watch Netflix for a while and then all of a sudden my step mom and all the kids came running downstairs telling me to get into the shelter with them. My dad was still at the shop and as soon as I sent him the radar, he Facetimed me and told me he was on his way home. We stayed in the basement for about an hour and all of my siblings ended up bawling and peed their pants! I find storms and tornadoes very accelerating and fun. We didn’t have any damage to our buildings, but our neighbor up the road has excessive damage; only his house and livestock is left. All of his buildings and barns are completely gone.

— Lillian Richter

At 3:33 p.m. I was finishing up at the nail salon. The leaves whipped past and hit buildings and cars. Getting in my car, the wind wasn’t bad. Once I got home the wind had picked up tremendously as I opened the door and walked inside. I was sitting in bed contemplating cleaning my room when the sirens and my phone alarm went off. My mom told me to get downstairs but I sat at our big windows watching it go from light to dark. The leaves hitting our house sounded like giant rocks hitting it. The sirens to me sounded like apocalypse music and the wind like someone was screaming. My mom eventually told me if I didn’t go to the basement I would be grounded. I went downstairs and only sat there for about fifteen minutes before the sirens ended. We went back upstairs and mom started on dinner while I went to my room to watch more TikToks.

— Kyra Rink

I knew we were going to have really strong winds and a storm, but I never thought a tornado would pass right by our town. The winds were so strong that I brought the chairs and things into the garage. I was playing Xbox with my friends the whole time. Eventually, we got multiple tornado alerts so we decided we needed to get off and unplug everything. I stayed upstairs most of the time watching the storm to see what was going on. All of the boys were in the group chat talking about it. As time passed, the storm died down and everything was pretty much ok. It was a very odd experience though; I definitely had an adrenaline rush.

— Alex Sonntag

The tornado was just a very unnerving experience. The day felt fine before the storm hit, and I doubted that a storm would actually come. But at like 4:30 when the dark clouds came in and the wind started picking up, I got kind of nervous and realized that this might actually happen. Once the sirens went off, I kind of went into panic mode because I was outside watching the lightning, so that was very stressful, rushing down to the basement. While we were chilling in the basement, I was calling all my friends and seeing how they were doing, and we just kind of sat and waited until it was good to go back upstairs.

— Bennett Whetstone

The tornado didn’t scare me. Before the weather started getting bad, we were making gingerbread houses. Then at 4 p.m. we went to Rancho. While we were sitting there, we could hear the wind pick up, and we could see the sky change colors. When we got home we went outside and picked up a few things that were going to blow away. That’s when the first alert came out and our neighbor was outside and he said: “Hell yes a tornado warning!” So I went inside and got our cats and dog downstairs to their kennels. Then my brother and I sat there and listened to the radio. My mom made it home before it got bad and then she had to go straight back to work after the storm. Then after, we went and picked up some sticks from the road.

— Riley Wood