MAYFIELD, Ky. — The air just didn’t feel right. Luis “Chili” Pardo didn’t like it. Didn’t like how the moisture felt on his skin inside the Soccer Factory, the indoor field he had opened a year before.
A couple of parents came over to talk with him. Some suggested canceling the rest of the games that night. The weather forecasters, they said, were warning that a storm was headed their way. But other parents shrugged. They get at least a dozen tornado warnings every year in Western Kentucky.
Chili was torn. If he canceled the last two games, it would be difficult to reschedule. Even though he’d lived in this town for 20 years, he worried parents might think the Chilean immigrant was an alarmist, someone who got scared off by a little storm. He might lose money. Not a lot. But enough for him to hesitate.
He watched the children playing 5-on-5 on the turf field, the air hot and wet and heavy. It was 72 degrees on Dec. 10, when it normally is in the 30s or 40s. “It felt like waiting for a hurricane in Miami,” he said. “It was that hot.”
Across town, 18-year-old Luis “Fish” Ajanel looked at his phone. Chili had just canceled his 9 p.m. game. “You’ve got to be kidding me” he thought. “Those some babies. Why is everyone being so worried?”
Frustrated, Fish texted teammate Gage Lynch, who was driving to the game. “Ah that stinks. I really wanted to play,” Gage said to himself before turning the car to go home.
As Chili watched parents and children pick up their gear to leave, he and his wife debated whether they should stay to tidy up the building and clean the bathrooms. But he didn’t like it. He just didn’t like how the air felt. He told his wife and children to get in the car. They grabbed a quick dinner, drove home and turned on YouTube to watch soccer. That’s when emergency warnings blared from their phones.
At his daughter’s urging, the family moved chairs into the bathroom and opened the weather app for the local television station. The meteorologists’ messages became increasingly urgent, their hands circling over a section of the map southwest of Mayfield, pointing to what they said was the distinctive pattern of a massive tornado. It already had destroyed so many buildings as it moved over the Mississippi River, first into Tennessee and now into Kentucky, and meteorologists were realizing the radar showed something they had never seen before — a debris signature more than a mile wide, and it was headed directly toward Mayfield.
“They just kept saying, ‘If you’re in Mayfield, it’s too late,'” said Gage, …….