Skip to main content
A1 A1
Old wounds heal hard

Joel Meriwether

The frightful experience of the tornado that hit Mt. Juliet in March of 2020 still lingers with many who lived through it.

When storm systems like the one that swept through Wilson County on Dec. 11 occur, those deep cuts have a way of reopening.

One Mt. Juliet man is just finally putting the finishing touches on his house that had to be rebuilt after the tornado destroyed it 18 months ago. He said that when the tornado warnings sounded a week ago, that gut-wrenching feeling returned with as much force as the winds outside.

After Joel Meriwether’s childhood home and residence in the Clearview area was wrecked, he moved into an apartment near Providence.

In the days following the damage, Meriwether made sure to secure the memory books and photo albums.

“They were my first thought,” Meriwether said.

He’s held onto those but has refrained from putting too much new furniture into his apartment.

“The only things I really have in this apartment are a bed, couch and computer desk,” Meriwether said. “I’m really looking forward to being reunited with my things.”

As conditions for last weekend’s storm began to emerge, Meriwether knew to be prepared. He’s always prepared, especially since 2020. He’s been interested in weather for as long as he could remember. As he puts it, “It’s an obsession that has gotten worse.”

“I was always ‘Stormtracker Joel’ to my friends on Facebook, alerting people to storms and inclement weather,” Meriwether said. “This time I was telling people in advance of the storm to be prepared, but I didn’t know how bad it would be.”

All the same, this time around, Meriwether would not be caught off guard.

“I knew things would start popping around 10 p.m (Friday), so I stayed up all night long,” Meriwether said. “I wanted to be as aware as I could be.

“I was actually texting with a friend of mine who lives in Hermitage, and when the tornado, being tracked from Dickson, went north of Nashville, my friend texted me and said, ‘You can probably go to bed now.’ ”

Not five minutes later, the announcement came over that Mt. Juliet was in a new tornado’s crosshairs.

Meriwether was ready for the tornado sirens. He and his cats got into the safe space in his apartment. He said that his cats don’t even object to it and follow him right in.

One thing he wasn’t prepared for though was the outpouring of love from friends and family that he would receive in those early-morning hours.

“I felt really blessed Saturday,” Meriwether said. “Right about 3:45 (a.m.) to 4, people were up and saw the tornado entering Mt. Juliet. I had like 10 people text me to make sure I was ok.”

Some reached for a different reason, as one friend turned to Meriwether for advice, knowing that he had been in a similar situation the year before.

“Since some friends know about my experience, they reached out and said, ‘I’m freaking out ... can you help,’ ” Meriwether said.

Meriwether says that he doesn’t have all the answers, but as a survivor, he does have a couple of solutions up his sleeve. For instance, he said that dealing with the fallout from the 2020 tornado has been made easier by the presence of his pets.

“I don’t know with the quarantine in the middle of the pandemic, and having PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) from the tornado, how I would have made it without my cats,” Meriwether said.

Therapy and preparation have helped ease his angst about future storms too, but Meriwether admitted that “if we have many more events like we had over the weekend, I’ll find myself back in a bad mental spot.”

“I do think I am handling things a lot better now,” Meriwether said. “It just takes a while to work through the mental stuff.”

That mental stuff manifested itself in irrational thoughts as Meriwether was beset with guilt for losing his home. He said that he recognized a need to seek professional help.

“I thought to myself, I’m going to need some guidance about stress.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, PTSD symptoms can include intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. Symptoms can vary over time or vary from person to person.

Meriwether isn’t the only one of his neighbors who have taken extra precaution in the event of future storms. Chloe Schafer lived nearby with her husband and children. Their home was also destroyed in the storms from last year. They built another house on the same property and moved back in about 9 months later.

However, she’s ready if this ever happens again. She bought a hand-crank weather radio and downloaded several weather apps on her phone. She also outfitted a survival bag in case they ever get trapped by debris. She doesn’t know if a storm like this will ever happen again, but she knows that if it does, she’ll be ready.

Mt. Juliet District 3 Commissioner Scott Hefner is another Clearview resident. His home wasn’t destroyed in the March 3 tornado, but he’s still left wondering how easily it could have been.

When the storm hit last weekend, Hefner said he felt like, “Well, here we go again.”

Like his fellow neighbors this time, he was better equipped.

“We had flashlights, a weather radio, food, water and our phones charged,” Hefner said.

Whereas, in 2020, he, his wife and daughters sought shelter in the closet. This time, they went into the basement. Much like before, his wife began praying again. Meanwhile, the same thoughts swirled through his head.

“You can’t help but think about, as I did on March 3, is this how we’re going to die,” Hefner said.

During the 2020 tornado, both of Hefners’ daughters were still living at home. Wrought with psychological trauma induced by that storm, both daughters decided to move to California.

“My youngest daughter had just flown in for the holidays,” Hefner said of the past storm. “She hadn’t been here two days, and she is already dealing with one again.”

Hefner mentioned that it really took a while to get past the loud sounds that he correlates with that dreadful night.

When Mt. Juliet replaced the tornado sirens near his neighborhood that were destroyed in the March 2020 tornado, Hefner said that he called the city manager and said that he needed to notify everyone that it was just a test, or risk re-traumatizing some survivors of that storm.

“The last time these folks in Clearview heard a tornado siren, their homes were destroyed,” Hefner said.

After the clouds cleared, Hefner went to Willoughby Station, a neighborhood hit hard this time around. Since he was on the receiving end of so much help after the March 3 tornado, he knows how important it is for victims to see others coming to their aid. He said that he was happy that he could be the one lending the help he got almost two years ago.

From the top down

Ag committee explores back-up plan

With setbacks delaying construction of a new building at the fairgrounds, the Wilson County Ag Management Committee has been forced to explore contingency plans for next year’s event.

The steel package delivery for construction of the building remains several months out, so the committee members are scrambling for an insurance policy. They may already have one.

During the committee’s regular-scheduled meeting on Tuesday, members delved into the problem that has been a recurring topic in discussions.

In the event that construction on the building is not completed by August, the committee has turned its attention to the Turner/Evans Building as an acceptable alternative. Ag Center Director Quintin Smith called the Turner/Evans Building the “No. 1 back-up,” to house the statewide, best-of-county displays.

Currently, that building is in need of repairs. The list provided to the committee on Tuesday highlighted issues, including drainage at the back of the building, inadequate lighting and electrical capacity. It would also need heating and air conditioning installed, new doors and insulation.

Smith commented on Tuesday that improving that building even as a short-term solution for the Made in Tennessee Building would have long-term benefits to the grounds.

Origins of Made in Tennessee

When the Wilson County Fair and Tennessee State Fair merged to become one entity, part of the deal was the construction of a new Made in Tennessee building. The building is intended to serve as a showcase for winners in dozens of categories from their respective county fairs ... hence the name, Made in Tennessee Building.

A ceremonial groundbreaking for the new building was held during the fair in August. Gov. Bill Lee and numerous local officials participated. However, crews have yet to actually break ground on the project.

Ideally, the construction of the building will be completed by August in time for the fair. To expedite the process and give that outcome a better chance of coming to fruition, it was decided by the committee that it would be ok to go ahead and construct the building without installing drainage right away. By adjusting the building location 100 feet, the necessary pipe and drain work can be done in the future, rather than being required before construction can start.

At the committee meeting last month, when the motion was passed to set the building back, Smith said that he supported the move because, “we need to get that building up as fast as we can.”

Moving back 100 feet required the design to be altered to account for the way the building is set. Estimates for that were pegged at approximately $20,000.

The committee agreed to take the $20,000 out of other construction projects in the meantime in order to get the ball rolling. However, committee member John Gentry, in his motion, specifically said that those expenses are not to exceed $20,000 without the committee revisiting it.

Mt. Juliet Planning Commission approves zoning changes

MT. JULIET — The Mt. Juliet Planning Commission recommended changing RS-15 zoning to a high-density land use designation at its meeting on Thursday evening.

The city of Mt. Juliet formerly classified medium-density housing as RS-15 prior to Thursday’s change. However, city officials have noticed that there are RS-15 planned-unit developments (PUDs) proposing lot sizes as little as 5,000 to 7,500 square feet.

Mt. Juliet Vice Mayor Ray Justice responded by requesting that the Mt. Juliet Planning Commission reclassify RS-15 zoning as high-density housing to appease to the demands of the small lot sizes in those developments.

That reclassification will have RS-15 join alongside RS-10 and R-10 as high-density housing.

RS-20 zoning will only be classified as medium-density housing.

Mt. Juliet City Planner Jennifer Hamblen said that Justice was concerned over the small lot sizes that he has seen in several subdivisions.

“He thought the lot sizes were so small that they did not really meet the classifications of medium-density housing,” said Hamblen.

Herrington, Wynfield, and Bradshaw Farms are among the subdivisions that are zoned as RS-15.

The average lot size for RS-15 PUDs is between 6,700 and 7,000 square feet.

Hamblen said that average lot size is more typical in a high-density environment.

She also said that RS-15’s reclassification as high-density will apply for future land use plan amendments.

Hamblen indicated that having the minimum lot size average of 10,000 square feet for single-family homes, which was passed by the Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners on Monday, will help the city have larger lot sizes being developed.

“In my opinion, RS-15 in a 5,000-square-foot loft is high density,” said Hamblen.

In other news, the Mt. Juliet Planning Commission recommended Cedar Grove Missionary Baptist Church’s sewer service Thursday.

They will forward that recommendation on to the Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners.

Cedar Grove Missionary Baptist Church will connect to the city’s sewage system by utilizing its grinder pump system on the church’s property and directing the wastewater flows east to the low-pressure force main along Nonaville Road.

The church is located outside Mt. Juliet’s current city limits and inside the city’s urban growth boundary.

Cedar Grove Missionary Baptist Church will pay all regular fees and a 100% surcharge for all city fees due to its property not being within city limits.

The church also agreed to pay the tap and capacity fees required for connection to the city’s sewage system.

Pastor Steve Willingham said that he had a vision for this church as an expansion that is growing all around residents.

Willingham added that after he talked about installing a sewage service for Cedar Grove with Mt. Juliet City Engineer Shane Shamanur before sending a sewer request to Mt. Juliet Public Works Director Andy Barlow, he quickly paid for the sewer outside of the city limits.

Willingham also talked about the city’s growth, with apartments being developed throughout Mt. Juliet.

“Somebody is going to want to know God more, and seeing (as) the Grove is probably a place where everybody wants to come, and I want to be there for the church’s expansion to have room for them,” said Willingham.