In December 2019 firefighter Jason Fields was searching for survivors in the aftermath of a tornado when he made a curious find. Amongst the wreckage the storm had left in its wake, he found an open bible. And when he took a closer look at the verse on the page, it sent a shiver down his spine.
At the end of 2019 the southern United States was rocked by a major tornado outbreak. The weather event got underway on the morning of December 16 when violent thunderstorms began rotating. And as the tornadoes gathered strength, they would wreak havoc in parts of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Now, there had been some advance warning given over the tornadoes. And the first inkling came on December 12 when the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) outlined areas that were at risk for five days, encompassing parts of the Mid-South and lower Ohio River Valley. However, this zone shifted to the southwest on December 14.
The SPC later updated its forecast to a day two outlook. And at this point, it identified an area of enhanced risk across parts of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. Furthermore, from December 16, an area of moderate risk was outlined throughout eastern Louisiana and central Mississippi. So it was then that a tornado outbreak began to look more likely.
If you don’t already know, tornadoes are formed from supercell thunderstorms. These differ from regular thunderstorms as they feature a vortex – a column of spinning air – at their center. And this whirlwind is a key ingredient in the formation of tornadoes. However, not all supercell storms will spawn twisters.
In order for a tornado to take shape, the vortex within the growing supercell storm must start to tilt. And with this new angle, it’s able to suck moisture and mild air upwards. This warm updraft causes the spinning eye of the storm to expand with water vapor, creating a twisting funnel cloud that can progress into a tornado.
Indeed, twisters are created when the cool downdraft of air starts to compete with the funnel cloud’s warm updraft. This condenses the cloud into a smaller space and increases its speed. If the downdraft is particularly strong, it can force the funnel cloud onto the ground, forming a tornado.
Of course, many tornadoes are relatively harmless and last just a few minutes. However, some can be extremely destructive and are considered among the most dangerous weather events we experience on Earth. The most calamitous can reach speeds of up to 300 miles per hour and last for prolonged periods of time.
Given the destructive nature of such tornadoes, it’s vital that meteorologists understand their weather patterns so that those in danger can be prepared and warned. You see, by knowing what causes twisters, scientists can issue warnings before a funnel cloud is even visible. And here, technology comes in handy.
Yes, because one of the weather surveillance systems that meteorologists use to detect tornadoes is Doppler radar. And this uses a similar technique to that employed by bats when trying to determine what objects there are in the air. Indeed, the radar measures the movement and speed of a storm by reflecting pulses off water vapor in the atmosphere.
With that in mind, the people of the southern United States had some forewarning when it came to the tornadoes of late 2019. That’s because the storms that were taking shape at that time had all the tell-tale signs of producing twisters. And when a vortex tilted on December 16 to create a swirling central eye, the experts were proved right.
So on December 16 the SPC issued a number of Particularly Dangerous Situation (PDS) warnings across the region. These enhanced alerts are issued when a tornado has been spotted on the ground, or when radar readings have suggested that a significant twister is taking shape. Therefore, the area was braced for a battering.
As the supercell storms progressed, it looked more likely that a number of major tornadoes would emerge. In fact, there was an onslaught of 33 twisters across Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. And the multiple tornadoes left varying degrees of destruction in their wake, as we’ll now find out.
Now, one of these tornadoes hit Vernon Parish, Louisiana, and was powerful enough to lift debris thousands of feet high. This same twister traveled on to Rapides Parish, LA, where the National Weather Service (NWS) announced a tornado emergency in the principal city of Alexandria. Of course, this was just the beginning.
Later, a tornado was spotted in the area, close to Alexandria International Airport. And it wreaked havoc in the vicinity of the transport hub, but luckily the airport itself emerged unscathed. The twister in question traveled 62 miles and, according to the Vernon Parish sheriff’s office, claimed one life.
Elsewhere, another tornado struck Columbia, Mississippi, where it caused significant damage to a body shop. An extract of the NWS damage survey on Twitter in 2019 stated that the building lost its roof before the tornado tossed “a car completely over the storefront.” It was just a sign of things to come.
You see, another tornado smashed into the Douglas Graham Group Home in Sumrall, Mississippi. There, seven people suffered injuries at the residence and were subsequently rushed to the hospital. Thankfully though, their ailments were minor, according to James Smith, the Lamar County emergency management director.
In Laurel, Mississippi, a tornado felled electrical transmission towers and stripped a manufacturing plant of its roof. Then the twister progressed through Clarke County, MS, before crossing into Choctaw County, Alabama. Subsequently, the NWS claimed this tornado’s route was 61-miles in length. But this didn’t mean neighbouring Mississippi’s troubles were over.
Indeed, because in northeast Mississippi, the settlement of Guntown fell victim to another tornado. And footage of this twister was apparently captured by a Ring doorbell as it tore through the town of approximately 2,000 people. Among the whirlwind’s victims was a church that suffered some damage.
However, one of the places worst hit by the tornadoes of late 2019 was Town Creek in Lawrence County, AL. You see, the twister that struck there caused two fatalities, claiming the lives of married couple Keisha Leann Cross Godsey and Justin Chase Godsey. And they were killed inside their property on County Road 265.
Later, the Godseys were remembered by members of their shaken community. In a December 2019 interview with WHNT News 19, Pastor Mitch Hallmark said of the couple, “They were great people… We do a lot of outreach here at the church and they would donate things and help us and come from time to time. Just a good family.”
Meanwhile, Town Creek resident Jimmy Graham also played tribute to the Godseys. He said, “They would help do anything they could for the neighborhood… Take care of their kids, play football and sports and stuff and everything. They’re good people.” Meanwhile, fellow neighbor Robert Odell added, “I feel for the family… it is this close to Christmas… and something like this comes through.”
Even the Governor of Alabama Kay Ivey joined the tributes to the late couple. In a statement released in December 2019 she said, “I join the community of Town Creek in grieving the loss of a husband and wife. While most of us slept through the storm, a family is waking up today devastated.”
Ivey added, “I will be praying for their family and the community, and I offer any assistance from the state that is available as they start the process of rebuilding. I urge everyone to remember those who were affected, whether it be those who have lost family members, those who were injured or those who lost their homes.”
No doubt confounding the Town Creek residents’ sense of anguish over the loss of the Godseys was that the couple’s seven-year-old son Landen was also left fighting for his life. In fact, the youngster was one of four or five people who were injured in the wake of the twister.
In a statement obtained by AccuWeather in December 2019, Lawrence County coroner Scott Norwood described the impact of the tornado on Town Creek. He said, “It was just total chaos… We just had to make do the best we could… but we all interagency worked together and we’re still working together.”
Now, one of the people working on the front line of Town Creek’s relief efforts was Jason Fields. As a fire captain from nearby Danville, AL, he had attended to his fair share of emergencies. However, there was something about his experience in dealing with the December 2019 tornadoes that stuck with him.
You see, in the aftermath of the freak weather event, Fields had been tasked with the grim task of searching for survivors among the rubble. However, he was stopped in his tracks when he came across something poignant, near to where the eye of the storm had hit.
Strikingly, the item that Fields had chanced upon was a bible. Describing his discovery in December 2019, Fields told WHNT News 19, “Where I found the Bible, this was ground zero. It was a shock. Really. It’s nothing that I was expecting to see. There were so many things out there. Splinters of lumber to car parts, even large trees.”
Now it’s not that unusual for Fields to come across discarded religious books in his line of work. That’s because, as a firefighter, he often finds them in burnt down buildings. However, this bible was particularly poignant as it was open at a verse that seemed to fit the circumstance it was found in.
Yes, Fields had found the bible lying open at the New Testament. And the particular page it had landed on restored the firefighter’s belief in God. That’s because it contained a verse that spoke about hope in adverse circumstances – just like Town Creek had found itself in following the tornado.
The verse in question, number 16, came from Acts Chapter 15. And it stated, “After this I will return. I will build David’s house again. It has fallen down. I will build again the parts of his house that have been pulled down. I will make his house new.” It’s not hard to see why Fields was so struck by the scenario.
In fact, Fields was so moved by the words he saw in front of him that he decided to snap a photograph and share it on Facebook. In the resulting picture, the holy book lay on the ground with its pages opened. And alongside the emotive image, Fields explained the context in which he’d found the text.
In Fields’ post from December 2019 he wrote, “Around 24 hours ago, lives were changed in an instant. Our department went to assist with the response in Town Creek. In previous tornado disasters, I have helped recover bodies, sift through debris to recover property, and offered support to those in the worst of times.”
And Fields continued, “Last night I stumbled upon this New Testament among thousands of pieces of debris. The storm had just destroyed the homes of several families, taken two lives, and critically injured others, but this Bible remained unharmed. Could there be a better reminder to us of the power of God?”
It seems that Field’s touching post struck a chord on social media, eventually attracting around 1,700 reactions and 1,400 shares. Furthermore, it also received a number of positive comments. And like Field, they felt that the open bible had been a sign of hope at one of Town Creek’s darkest hours.
Responding to Fields’ photo of the bible in question, one Facebook user wrote, “No one or anything else can not destroy GOD’S WORD. Amen and amen.” Meanwhile, another person added, “Thank u so much for sharing this. Through God all things are possible.” And one more simply said, “Wow, that gave me chills!” But that doesn’t conclude our story.
For you see, Fields later confirmed that he didn’t touch the bible in order to respect the people it had belonged to. And in an even more poignant twist, he had found it on the property of Keisha and Justin Godsey – the couple that had lost their lives as a result of the tornado.
For the firefighter, finding the bible passage in such circumstances made him feel positive about his decision to become an emergency responder and also brought him closer to God. He later told WHNT News 19, “It reaffirmed my faith.” Explaining what he meant by that, the firefighter added, “It was just a spiritual moment, that’s all you can call it.”
Initially, Fields had doubts over sharing the image of the bible on social media. However, he later decided to do so as he “felt it could offer encouragement to others.” And if the reaction his Facebook post received is anything to go by, it appears that people may just have been buoyed by the small sign of hope found in such tragic circumstances.