THE BEST SELLERS’ LIST- For the Record: Reflecting on 40 year of crazy Memphis weather

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By Thomas Sellers Jr.

As I look outside my living room window, I’m wondering do I live in Buffalo, N.Y. or Memphis, Tenn.?
Since Feb. 11, the Buff City has been slammed with ice, sleet, snow and all kinds of wintry mixes. I’ve spent half of last week at home picking and choosing the best times to travel on white streets.
I’m a born, raised Memphian. So winter-effected roads terrify my soul. My tears only add to the saturation on the pavement.
Living in Memphis my whole life, I realize our weather situation is a blessing. About 90 percent of our conditions are uneventful. Besides suffocating humidity in the summer, freezing winter temperatures and “Blackberry-Winter” spring days, Memphis weather can be handled with the lost of life or property.
Back in 1990, most of the city was suicide watch because of the predicted earthquake. The long overdue event was going to snap the M-Town from the rest of the state and release Memphis into the Mississippi River.
Thank God that hasn’t happened yet. But this snowy February 2021 will rank among one of the worst weather events in the city’s history. In my 40 years of life, this week will definitely be in the top 10.
The recent icy days got me thinking about past times weather led the news in Memphis and even made national headlines. This week’s Best Sellers’ List will countdown 5 times my life changed because of an act of God.

  1. Last Day of School Tornado
    June 1994
    Fresh off another significant weather event earlier that year, like most children in Memphis I was happy it was the last day of school. My seventh grade year, first go around in a full-fledged middle school was coming to an end.
    This chubby, glasses wearing nerd was ready for a break from the daily grind of insults and being invisible to girls. I was ready to get away from Raleigh-Egypt Middle School and head home to Frayser to regroup.
    But a nervous energy was in the air. Rumors of major fights and a gang war spread across the city. Police were going to be present at most middle and high schools that afternoon. I guess God had other plans. About noon a dark cloud hovered over the entire city and storms broke out.
    Some say there were tornadoes while other side it was only strong storms. Whatever it was, we had to go outside into the hallway and do our tornado drill. Final exams were canceled (thank you Lord) and any activities planned that day were never came to fruition.
    We were without power for 4 days at home but it was nice to know nobody died a few days earlier, from the storm or stupidity.
  2. Snow Storm ‘85
    January 3, 1985
    I can barely remember this historic snow storm. I was about 3 years old and I had a deep devotion to my cowboy boots. Recently receiving these beautiful brown fashion statements, I wore them summer, spring, winter and fall. With shorts or jeans, my cowboy boots were nearby.
    So during the record 8.1 inches of white stuff saturating Memphis, my mom remembers me struggling to stay upright trying to navigate our front yard with my boots on.
    Ready to put on my snow boots, my mom had to endure my cries to wear my precious cowboy boots. She was the one in tears later, from laughter. My mom enjoyed me falling and landing in the snow over and over again. I guess that’s the price you pay for being hard-headed.
  3. 2008 Super Tuesday
    February 5, 2008
    The year 2008 was 365 days of ups and downs. I enjoyed the Memphis Tiger Basketball team’s ride to the Final Four. But the defeat of the Tigers in the championship game still hurts my soul.
    There was a historic presidential election that year and another event close to me made national news. A tornado landed within the city limits of Memphis killing a person. The day of Feb. 5, 2008 will forever be known as Super Tuesday.
    The 2008 Super Tuesday tornado outbreak was a deadly tornado outbreak which affected Southern states for two days.
    In the political landscape, 24 states were holding primary elections that day. Meanwhile the Higher Power cast storms on Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee.
    The weather system generated 87 tornadoes for more than 15 hours from the afternoon of Feb. 5 until the early morning of Feb. 6. The outbreak got rolling in the heavily populated areas of Memphis, Jackson and Nashville.
    A total of 57 people were killed across four states and 18 counties, with hundreds of others injured. Having nearly 60 people die from the storms made the $500 million of damage insufficient.
  4. Ice Storm ‘94
    February 10, 1994
    It will take a combination of the actual weather and a lack of preparedness to equal the Mecca of winter storms for Memphis. Back in 1994, a sheet of ice blanked the Bluff City. With ice-covered limbs hanging over power lines and streets, it was a matter of time for all Hades broke loose.
    That gave birth to the lasting legacy of Ice Storm ‘94. Memphis was a crystal city the morning of Feb. 11, 1994. It was beautiful seeing trees, homes, roads and other fixtures crystallized. Then quickly we realized this winter wonderland was a doomsday device. The ice and slush led to cancellations. Power outages peaked at 10,000. And we missed school for 2 whole weeks (that was awesome). But having to attend school for an extra hour throughout April was horrible.
    I digress, the storm knocked our ABC affiliate out for several days. We had to learn a lot of lessons to prevent such damage for future winter storms.
    It is common to see Memphis residents hit the grocery storm in anticipation of a winter event. Our meteorologists are much better now and have improved technology to forecast these storms.
    The crews of Memphis Light Gas and Water have a year-around routine to prune trees and trim foliage away from power lines.
    With us learning our lesson, Ice Storm ‘94 becomes more mythical with each passing year.
  5. Hurricane Elvis
    July 22, 2003
    I woke up that morning with my puppy Tipper now feeling so well. I remember the daylight outside my window for it became night all of sudden. It was pitch-black for about 15 seconds. I heard a large pop and it was all over.
    Went outside and it looked like a hurricane had flatten Frayser. That brief moment in history is now known as “Hurricane Elvis.” Before it left the building, it left a lasting legacy.
    The Memphis summer storm of 2003 was a severe derecho event that affected parts of the Southern United States, particularly Southwest Tennessee and North Mississippi. Sadly the storm took lives that day. “Hurricane Elvis” ripped our city and the region a part that day.
    More than 300,000 homes in Shelby County was left without power. We stayed without energy in the Memphis heat for six days.
    This storm was very similar to the derecho that went through Kansas City, Missouri in June 1982, as well as one that hit St. Louis, Missouri on July 19, 2006. It’s when wind suddenly develops and rips through a city. Hurricane Elvis’ winds reached the level of a Category 2 hurricane. As the storm crossed the Mississippi River into Downtown Memphis, a barge recorded an unofficial wind reading of 108 mph.
    The reason this storm lands at No. 1 on my list, the other four either had a few hours of warning or days of notification. But Hurricane Elvis was sudden, quick and devastating. 
    THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for West 10 Media/Magic Valley Publishing. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to thomas@magicvalleypublishing.com.