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WKU Archives - Hail Storm Memories

These memories were collected via the WKU Voice Listserv on April 16, 1998.  Send us your memories:

Today is the 10-year anniversary of the great hail storm in Bowling Green. What are your memories of that day? I recall hearing the newly installed COWS alarm and going to the first floor of Potter Hall, where I waited with the other staff in this building for the storm to pass. We watched students running for cover. I was able to get in touch with my husband via cell phone, who had been ushered to the basement of the hardware store where he was shopping. My children, ages 16 and 12 at the time, were on spring break, but I couldn't reach them at home. I learned later that they were in the basement bathroom with the "bug man." I live about 10 minutes from campus, but it took more than an hour to get home, where I found 7 broken windows, dented aluminum siding and a flooded basement. My lot slopes into a pond, and about a dozen ducks had been killed by the large hail stones. What a day to remember!
---Freida Eggleton, Registrar

Molly Kerby of Women's Studies said: I was working at Medco Nursing Home here in BG and completing my masters at WKU. I was at work when the COWS sounded and we called "code gray." I had just clocked out but hadn't left so I ended up staying at the nursing home for over 27 hours to help. The hail broke out most of the windows on "A" hall, so we had to make temporary spaces for resident's beds. The maintenance guy and I went to Lowe's and got plywood to cover the windows temporarily - about all we could do. It happened before dinner so we had to figure out how to cook and serve 70+ people who were all sitting out in the hall ways because their rooms were covered in glass. Then, about two hours after the hail storm, the street flooded and ran back into the building - we had about a foot of water gushing through the building for hours. The laundry room was even worse because water was gushing through our courtyard - it was moving fast enough to knock you off your feet and cold balls of hail in it! I remember how we all pulled together as a team. There was no distinction between RNs, BSNs, LPNs, housekeepers, CNAs; we were just all trying to take care of folks. Strangely enough, I have some found memories of that day and how race, class, and gender don't seem to matter during a disaster. We were all just people helping people!

I got home the next night about 6:00pm and it looked like it never even rained at my house. My car destroyed, so it looked really out of place in my neighborhood. People were just starting to access damages...definitely a day to remember, Freida!

Ten years ago today I was a student here, and in the process of running 3 miles for Jogging class when the COWS alarm went off. My friends and I ran about a mile back to Rodes- Harlin; we were passing Schneider Hall when the hail started. It was a rough 200yds to the front door but it was also one of the more interesting experiences that I remember from that semester--all of us were afraid, excited, and proud of ourselves for not ducking into another building (idiots), but instead returning to our own. Later in the evening, after everything had died down, I was crossing through the valley and encountered a BSA or facilities Management associate who had a walkie-talkie--I overheard that all classes for the next day were canceled. A celebration was quickly initiated--Pizza Hut was still delivering!
Sean McCray - Academic Advising & Retention Center

My son and I were having our teeth cleaned at WKU's Dental Hygeine department. He was 6 years old. I heard the COWS alarm go off and noticed the black sky and told the student working on my mouth 'I'm going to leave now'. She said, this will only take a few minutes more, and I replied, 'I'm going to take those alarms at their word'. I found where my son was and got him out of his chair and we ran to the bathrooms on the second floor of the Academic Complex. Someone from WKYU-FM had run out of the door and yelled to the group of about 10 students who were looking out the large plate glass windows - Get away from the windows! 'Are you 'effin' crazy? There's a tornado coming!!!!

A few seconds after my son and I huddled in the bathroom stalls, it hit. We heard what sounded like hammers hitting the plate glass and felt the building shake. Afterwards there was a huge pile of large hail outside the windows, as if someone had dumped several 20 pound bags of ice there.

I walked over to see what had happened with the bookstore, but the area was already taped off with a 'Danger! High Voltage' sign and there was water pouring down the stairwells. All the employees were okay but the bookstore was flooded water dripping from the ceiling (I was told), and we were on the third floor of a four story building.

The day had been warm, and I left my apartment windows open that morning. All my electronic gadgetry was next to an open window and I was sure the stereo/TV/computer would be toast. When I got home, as Frieda mentioned "a 10 minute walk but an hour's drive at that point" everything was bone dry and the power was on.

It was as if the storm never happened where we lived, but two houses up the roofs were trashed and windows smashed.

What a day indeed!
Forrest Halford, Bookstore

Susan Morris of Training/Technical Assistance Services reported: Yes indeed, what a day to remember! I am reminded everyday, as I am still driving my "hail bopped" car! I had the windows fixed, but the "pings" are still there. I once thought I would paint the middles of the pings and have a polka dot car, but have yet to do that! I spent the worse part of the storm under the sinks in the women's bathroom at the "new" South Campus Bowling Green Community College site. The hail came down in huge chunks besides the regular ball shapes of various sizes, it was a "weird" sight! A young boy (looked to be around 10-12) that was waiting in a car for his mom, he got scared and made a run for the building and got pelted with ice, he received several cuts on his head. We lived in town just a couple of blocks from campus and it took me about an hour to get home. The only thing that happened to our house was it looked like someone had painted leaves all over the house, they were stuck to the white bricks, one cracked window, we were very fortunate there. Susan :o)

I was in my car on 31-W when the large hail started falling. The low spots were flooded pretty badly because the storm had a lot of rain with it as well. I remember the splashes of the hail in the water and how loud the hail was getting on the hood and roof of my car. I pulled in under a bank's overhang by the drive-thru window and watched the trees thrash around. Later I watched the cars drive by with their hazard lights flashing and all their windows smashed in. It was very surreal.
Brent Fisk, Library

I was working at VanMeter Insurance on Scottsville Road - ground zero - that day. At approximately 3:30 pm, we were all notified that there was a tornado headed toward us and we all scurried down to the basement to wait out the storm. As the storm passed over us, we could hear the sounds of breaking glass (car windshields) outside and began to understand why as our interns kept coming down the stairs with larger and larger hailstones. Miraculously, the building leaked very little and only a few windows were broken. My then 16-year-old son was in our basement at home and we were thankfully able to correspond via cell phone during the storm so I knew he was OK. At that time, I lived 10 miles north of town and this house (that I had just sold) had very minor damage. The home I purchased in town two weeks prior to the storm had very little damage although most houses around it had broken windows, leaky roofs, etc. The hail made such large dents in the yard that it appeared as though it had been aerated with fence posts. Sadly, my car that had been sitting in front of my work place was totally trashed, every window broken out, and had at least 5" of water in it. It was a 4-hour round trip to town and back for my brave son who had to find a creative/safe way to reach me and return us home.

On the one-year anniversary, VanMeter hosted a "hail" anniversary party in the basement. It was pretty cool.

Truly, a day that will live in my memory.
Gaye Pearl, Architectural & Manufacturing Sciences

I remember being on a cruise ship in the Bahamas and having an absolutely splendid time then returning home to hear tales of what had occurred while we were gone. I also remember my dad, who owned a body shop at the time, becoming so overwhelmed with the number of people who wanted estimates that he started to charge for them just to get some people to leave. Money was good, but stress was high. Thanks to those of you who still have your "hail bopped" cars. ;-)
Lisa Taylor, Physics & Astronomy

I was in Troy, Ala., facing the last two weeks of teaching in the then-named Troy State University Hall School of Journalism. I had resigned from my cushy, tenured faculty position and was taking a $20K a year pay cut to return to the newsroom as a managing editor at a daily in the Florida Panhandle. I think hail struck me before I made that switch.
Mac McKerral, Journalism & Broadcasting

Patty Booth of Human Resources said: I was on Wilkinson Trace with a ringside seat to watch the Hartland Apts being ripped to shreds. Unbelievable. My husband was on Cemetary Road in a brand new 1998 Ford Explorer that had 146 miles on it. The hail broke out all the glass except for one window and piled high onto the new leather seats. It was a company vehicle but still! What a waste. Nobody was hurt though. You've gotta love those COWS!

I was in Houston at a conference--we heard that there was a tornado in Nashville near the airport and I worried about my car parked there. Much relieved to get back on Friday night and find it okay...and then sobered as we drove out of Nashville and clearly saw the path of the tornado in torn trees and roofs right by Gaylord Entertainment. At this point we have no warning about the hail storm in Bowling Green. We drove on north but started wondering as we came into Bowling Green on 31-- huge puddles, lights out, strange looking cars, broken windows. It was very surreal. I took my colleague to his home first, or tried to -- roads were cut off by water and all the time we're getting more worried. I finally got him home and he was relieved that his wife and kids were okay. They had just moved in 2 weeks before. She was ready to move out. They'd never experienced any sort of tornado before and to be in a strange town alone was overwhelming.

I made my way on home and, after dark, nothing looked too bad. But with light the next morning I saw that my yard looked like someone had taken the lid off a mega-salad spinner--mulch city. I had a broken door and roof repair (of course). I remember the standard casual conversation topic for weeks was optimal roof tarp attachment.
Sally Kuhlenschmidt, FaCET

It just seems like yesterday, I was working at Lowes and when the sirens went off everyone was rushed to the back of the store only some people could fit into the bathrooms and break room so we sat out in the front just waiting for it to pass by. Lowes has a metal roof so when the large hail started it sounded like a freight train was hovering over our heads. I had just moved to Kentucky from Alaska and I had never experienced a storm like this before, it was a whole new experience. When it was all over a few of us were brave enough to go outside and cover the cars with plastic. My back window was out and water was pouring in. Once the main part was over it was business as usual. Even though we had no electricity we were still selling plastic, duct tape and plywood, people would come in and just wanted to cover up the mess, it was a madhouse. One of our delivery trucks loaded up with plywood and drove around to some of the neighborhoods passing out plywood for all of the broken windows. It was a long day but everyone seemed to work together. I remember driving back to Edmonson county that night with no back window and my front window with cracks all over. It was a long drive but I was just glad to be home! It was definitely a memorable day!
Tanya Vincent, Bursar's Office

I had just finished teaching a class in Grise when the Cows alarm went off as I was walking back to WAB. I went to the basement and there was the president, vice-presidents, all the IT staff mingling together. We heard loud sounds outside so one of the staff opened the door. A big chunk of ice slammed right into building near him and the president came up and suggested we shut the door. When it was over I went back to my office to call my family and got no response. So I walked home to 14th and Park where windows were broken, screens punctured, and 8 inches of hailstones piled up around my garage door. My family wasn't there, they had been at the public library and had to retreat to the basement in the dark. My car was unscathed but my wife's car was dinged. I went to my basement where there was 2 feet of water. I drained it out by pulling the drain lid off, then went up and called my insurance company. They had a man out by Sunday. We put a tarp on the roof and waited a year for a roofer. It was a busy time for roofers.
Jeffrey Jones, Academic Technology

I was (un)lucky enough to be home from work that fateful day. Alone . . . no company but a terrified cat. My husband was at work. We lived on Peachtree Lane at that time, a bad location if you expect to hear the COWS (no, I could not hear them). The only way I even knew a storm was coming were the weather reports from WBKO. And those reports didn't last very long, as the station was knocked out as soon as the bad weather hit.

I remember huddling in a very small, hot bedroom closet . . .yes, with the cat. Pillows piled all around. Not knowing what was coming or when it was going to get there.

Now keep this in mind: I was living in a 1960's, solid brick home. Very sturdy.

After all the chaos, we ended up with several broken windows, hail -bopped cars (1 was totaled), damaged roof and BROKEN BRICK. Yes, the hail actually broke several bricks on the back of our house.But the most memorable image in my mind was my brothers face. He had just purchased a brand new Mustang. It had been sitting at the dealership on Scottsville Rd. It was completely destroyed. Several of the hail balls were large enough to completely puncture the fiberglass hood and were laying on the engine.

Truly a day to remember (and then hopefully forget!)
Shawna Cawthorn, Bookstore

I had not been working at WKU very long at all when the hailstorm hit. We were in DUC and several of us were watching it from outside the basement floor doors. We stayed out there until the hail started and we could see the storm coming from right over Smith stadium. When we got inside all the people that had been in the stairwells came running out screaming since water was gushing down the stairwells. It took a long time to get home that night but was able to see that my apt. had sustained a bit of damage but nothing to severe. My car on the other hand had been totaled. After surveying my home I came back to DUC and spent the night cleaning and repairing what we could in the dining services locations so we could still feed the students the next day.
Nena Shomler, Dining Services

I was working at Center Care in Hartland, but had taken the week off because my girls were out for spring break. I took them to lunch on Campbell Lane, & was intended to drive to Franklin after lunch. As I rounded the curve on Campbell Lane, I saw the most ominous black cloud & could see the rain in the distance. I started to go ahead & drive thru it, but once I saw the multiple lightning strikes in the clouds, I turned around at Fishy Business & drove home to Briarwood. When WBKO announced a tornado was in the area, I gathered the girls, put their bike helmets on & tucked them in the back of my walk-in closet surrounded by pillows & the comforter. Then the lights went out & I heard the most terrible sound I have ever heard. I sat there with my flashlight looking up, expecting to see the roof fly off my house - then it suddenly got very still. I came out of the closet & looked out of the window, but all I could see was white. The hail was so thick in my yard, it looked like snow & the steam from the pavement & yard made it very foggy, then it started again. My yard also looked like a tossed salad & all the the neighbors' cars outside were totaled. Luckily, my van was in the garage, but I'm still driving my mother -in-law's hail dented car. We had multiple leaks in our 5 year old roof, but all my windows were intact. The brick on the chimney took a pretty good hit & several bricks were broken. Our neighbors one street over on the newer section of Ironwood weren't as lucky. All my co-workers at Center Care had their cars totaled. They told me they gathered downstairs in the Urgentcare X-ray room since the walls were lined with lead.

My husband was on the road coming back from Owensboro & he called and told me he was hearing on the radio that Bowling Green had been hit by a tornado & large hail. It took him about 3 hours to get from Nashville Road to Briarwood. My youngest daughter & I talked about it this morning while watching AM KY. Her only memory was of us being in the closet with bike helmets on. I'm very thankful that all the damage were to things that could be replaced or repaired.
Cindy Morris, University Centers

Yes, that was the day I said I was finished with being a good samaritan (but of course couldn't stick to that). I was in Cherry Hall in my office where we can't hear COWS or CALVES or anything. Someone had to tell us what was going on outside (I don't have a window). After running around putting cardboard over a few holes in faculty office windows, we went to the basement and waited among many others who reside in our building. After the mess I volunteered to take a student worker and GA down to their cars near PFT. My worker's car was completely submerged in Egypt lot and the GA's car was blocked in by others with car problems. After dropping them off, my car flooded out on Regents and I had to beg two students standing on their porch to push me into a driveway--this was immediately after I had opened my car door to see how deep the water was (dummy!) and another car driving by caused water to flood my floorboard, backpack and purse. Anyway, the car dried out a little and after an hour I had made it ALL the way to Broadway where my fan belt broke and my car overheated across from Box of Rocks. Pulled off the road, opened hood, promptly tried to close it without moving the stick (dummy--but hadn't been driving that car very long--different hood mechanism). Bent the hood. Called my husband from Box of Rocks. Had to get my daughter's boyfriend to drive my husband over here (lived by the mall then). All the while I was in a panic trying to get to my three girls--thank God my husband had been home with them the whole time. Yes, that was the day I nearly had a nervous breakdown. Thanks for reminding me. : )
Paula Johnson, Philosophy & Religion

I was in blood storage cooler with a group of people that considered donating plasma gainful employment.
Jim Sears, Bookstore

I was in a metal storage building with only one safe space - the teeny tiny women's restroom. As soon as the COWs went off, the owner high-tailed it out of there to go to his home with a basement and left me, the office manager, to take care of 4 workers. We had an 8-month pregnant woman and we shoved her in a corner of the bathroom, stacked large packages of toilet paper rolls all around her, then we stood in the doorway of the bathroom and hoped for the best. We think straight-line winds hit us, because not only could we see it lifting our roof off, it completely demolished a four-bay storage building on our property, sending debris over 200 yards away. Our insurance adjuster still has a blown-up picture of our destroyed storage building on his wall. The saddest part was we had been watching a killdeer bird's nest for a few weeks (they lay their eggs on the ground). The hail killed the poor little bird and broke all her eggs. I was out Russellville Rd, and it took me almost 3 hours to get to my house close to Hinton's Cleaners.

Oh, and thanks to the owners' actions, I realized it wasn't the place for me!
Cynthia Sprouse

On April 16, 1998, I was not yet in Bowling Green. However, the same storm that spawned the hailstorm here was also responsible for a number of tornado and hail storms in other states (what they call a "super-outbreak). One of the places that was affected was Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. That day, the Minnesota Association of Law Libraries held their annual meeting at my institution, Hamline University Law School. We were supposed to give a tour of the library, which had been expanded and remodeled the previous year. There was a skylight in the law school building right outside of the library door. Just as we started taking a group of librarians into the library from the room we had been meeting in, the sky turned real dark and hail started coming down on the skylight. We quickly went into the library, where we continued the tour.

Later we discovered that there had been a lot of damage. One very beautiful street, Highland Parkway (which had trees growing in a median), lost most of its wonderful trees, many of which had been there for decades. A large number of houses on Highland Parkway and the adjacent streets were damaged. One of the librarians at the State Law Library had just moved into a house there two weeks earlier; it was severely damaged.

My wife Gayle (who I did not know at the time) lived in the Highland neighborhood. However, her mother was having hip surgery that day, so Gayle spent the tornado in a hospital waiting room. Luckily Gayle did not suffer any property damage, but had her mother been at home that day it would have been very frightening for an elderly lady.

As in Bowling Green, several car dealers were hit very hard. Electricity was knocked out in the Highland neighborhood of St. Paul, and that night the Jewish synagogue that I belonged to had services by candlelight. (I wasn't there that night, but heard the story later.) Several of the congregants were surprised to discover that the "Eternal Light" (a feature of Jewish synagogues that is supposed to be kept lit at all times) did not operate without electricity, causing the synagogue to invest a few months later in a battery backup system for their "Eternal Light."
--Bryan Carson, Library

I remember knowing that the National Weather Service had forecast a particularly dangerous weather situation for that day (several states were to be involved). Ever the storm watcher (mostly out of fear), I woke up at 4:00 that morning and already storms were cutting paths in Tennessee. As the day wore on, Nashville's tv stations were stuck on live coverage about storms' destruction in Nashville and surrounding areas. Several people had been killed by tornadoes and falling debris; many homes and buildings were completely destroyed. I hated it for them but was hoping those storms stayed out of Kentucky. Yet they crept ever closer. I remember that early afternoon, flipping to channel 13 for any news, weather, something, and instead finding only soap operas. For a few minutes, the newbie meteorologist came on air, and he poo-poohed the storms, saying they were in Tennessee and posed no threat to Kentucky. (He's no longer with that station.) Meanwhile, on a Tennessee station's radar, the darkest storm cell I'd ever seen was crossing into Kentucky, heading straight for BG. I called WBKO and complained that folks needed warning, that these storms had a deadly history. Both Chris Allen and Jeff Noble were on vacation. But as the storm twisted and blasted into Warren County, Allen and Noble came rushing in-- almost too late. What they did do, though was call for COWS activation (though NOAA had not issued a warning). Many people said they heard the COWS and went indoors. As baseball- to softball-sized hail pummeled the news station, a hailstone broke through the window where the two were monitoring the radar and beaned Noble; he went sprawling. Needless to say, coverage from that point on was transferred to their storm shelter--where they could be heard but not seen.

I live in Edmonson County and was safe at home that day. The storm never touched us. I think the most difficult thing about the storm was the wondering: is my husband safe or is he driving through this? (missed it by 3 minutes) Are my friends and colleagues safe? How many people are injured? How many suffered irreparable damage to their homes and vehicles? Not as many people owned cell phones then as do now . . .

Laughably, storm coverage has since taken an almost absurd precedence over most programming on that station, but you can bet that if our local weather crew feels that the COWS system needs to be activated, they won't wait for NOAA's blessing.
Trish Jaggers, Women's Studies

I was at work in Bonnieville, KY and was supposed to go to the WKU Glasgow campus for a night class. When I heard the weather reports on the radio, I tried to contact my professor to let him know that I would not be at class that night. He worked at BGMU and I was unable to reach him. I was scared to death that it would adversely effect my grade, but I decided not to try to go. My husband and I were in the process of buying a house (with a basement) but had not signed the papers yet. Thankfully, we did at least have the keys, so all of my family went to the empty house - that we didn't own yet - and waited out the storm.

I can remember the lack of 'official' tornado warnings from the national weather service. But, there was a DJ on WKNK (I think those are/were the call letters) out of Edmonton. She kept saying something like, "The national weather service has NOT issued a tornado warning, but I'M TELLING YOU, it's coming" Then she would list the towns and areas that were in the path of the storm. Thanks to her, I'm sure many people were saved, though I believe there were three who lost their lives in Barren County.
Alice Cannon, Bookstore

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 Last Modified 10/8/14