One year ago today — Tuesday, July 22, 2003 — a sudden storm with 100 mile an hour winds struck Memphis, Tennessee. In less than thirty minutes, a major metropolis was wrecked, swept from the map. America never knew.
I woke up that day around 5:30, turning on the morning news to see how the weather was going to be. Radar was showing a small, strong cell over northeast Arkansas heading to Memphis. It looked bad, but there were no warnings yet. I decided to haul ass, get dressed and out the door, and try to beat the storm.
I walk to work. That morning, I swung by the Rite Aid on Union. The sky was clouding up quickly; no sunrise today. By the time I left the Rite Aid, there was a light sprinkle starting and the sky was pitch black. The time was just after 6:30. In the short distance down the block from Union to Madison, the sky opened up, dumping a torrent of water. Standing at the corner, I discovered I could barely see a block down the road. The rain and wind was getting worse as I stood there. Braving a couple of oncoming cars, I started across the road and realised my mistake: the wind was so strong that if I fell, I wouldn't get back up in time to get out of traffic!
By the time I made it in the door to work, the rain was falling sideways. Literally. I stood at the window, looking across the parking lot to the apartments on the other side. Water falling on the other side of their roof was being blown over the peak, almost like a horizontal waterfall. The winds were still picking up.
Then the power went out. I got out my portable radio and tuned to WREC, AM600. They were reporting a major storm was sweeping through the city. Well, that was obvious, as the winds were shaking the building of the restaurant I worked in! I had started a bit of opening, but once the power went out, I quit, not knowing how long power would remain out. Little did I know....
The radio kept repeating the storm warning, and reporters were calling in from wherever they were with stories of downed trees, blocked roads and damaged homes. It kept looking worse and worse. The rains eventually slowed down, so I went out to Madison to see what it looked like.
It was awful. Across the street, an old oak was down, snapped at the base, lying on Madison. Looking back to the west, I could see another, huge oak was down across from Zinnie's. Limbs and leaves were everwhere. There was a growing sense that something terrible had happened.