Typically, when we share videos of downbursts like this one, they are from a distance — far enough that the photographer is not in immediate danger, but close enough that you can see the wind barrel across the landscape.
This is not one of those videos.
A line of strong thunderstorms rolled through Tennessee on Friday evening, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Similar to a derecho, these storms produced exceptionally strong straight-line winds that had the power to do as much damage as some tornadoes. Over 300 severe wind reports were submitted to the National Weather Service on Friday as these storms tracked from the Ohio Valley to the Southeast.
Jesse Street was on his docked houseboat with his fiancee on Watauga Lake when the storm hit northeast Tennessee.
Radar image of the Downburst Storm at Seymour Friday evening.
Note classic Bow Echo and Wind Arrows pushing the Bow. pic.twitter.com/JcqF92Z3ij
— NWSMorristown (@NWSMorristown) July 9, 2016
“We’ve got a tornado coming or something,” Street says at the beginning of the video. He zooms the camera in on a distant boat that’s quickly overtaken by rain and wind. Sirens can be heard in the distance. “Can’t even see him now,” he says. “They can’t go any faster, either.”
Street keeps the video trained on the horizon where the microburst’s straight-line winds are rapidly approaching. “Look at that wind. Look at this. My god,” Street says.
A female voice chimes in from the background, “What do we do?”
“Nothing but lay down,” Street says. “Ain’t nothin’ we can do.”
At this moment, the microburst hits Street’s boat in full-force. Branches and leaves are ripped from trees on the shoreline. Seat cushions and loose belongings fly from his neighbor’s boat. Street takes cover in the center of the houseboat.
“We thought we were going to be picked up and thrown into the air,” reads the caption on the video.
When the wind dies down enough, Street ventures back out onto the deck of the houseboat and spots what, presumably, is the boat seen at the beginning of the video, now much closer. It appears to have drifted into a floating dock and rocks wildly in the wind and waves. Branches and leaves litter the water and surrounding boats.
The floating dock then breaks and is pushed into Street’s dock, where he says they were able to reach the man on the stranded houseboat. The video ends with the boaters calling 911.