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Text message alerts CrossFitters to seek shelter as tornado tears through Jacksonville

Around the time an EF1 tornado swept through Jacksonville’s San Jose area during Tropical Storm Elsa, a group of CrossFitters would have been jogging during their afternoon class, but they said a single text may have saved their lives.
Around the time an EF1 tornado swept through Jacksonville’s San Jose area during Tropical Storm Elsa, a group of CrossFitters would have been jogging during their afternoon class, but they said a single text may have saved their lives.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Around the time an EF1 tornado swept through Jacksonville’s San Jose area during Tropical Storm Elsa, a group of CrossFitters would have been jogging during their afternoon class, but they said a single text may have saved their lives.

Dicarlo Thompson, who works out at the CrossFit Total Control West on Bowdendale Avenue every day, and about 20 others had just started their 4:30 p.m. class on Wednesday when the weather went south.

“I was mostly warming up,” Thompson said. “I just really started putting weight on the bar and the lights flickered.”

Elsa brought wind and rain to the area, but Thompson didn’t expect the storm to bring a tornado as well. The CrossFitters didn’t know they were in the tornado’s path until CrossFit coach Jordan Tolbert got a text message from his wife. It shows a photo of News4Jax Chief Meteorologist John Gaughan and says, “Tornado is close to Phillips (sic) and Bowden.”

“I had actually gotten a text that the storm was only a quarter-mile away,” Tolbert recounted. “So I went outside to kind of see what was going on, and as soon as we got outside, we saw all the shrapnel up in the air.”

“They rushed to get the garage doors closed,” Thompson said. “I think we were looking outside and seeing the tornado coming down the road and then they yelled, ‘Everybody get in the office.’”

Everyone ran to the back office for shelter. Meanwhile, down the street, surveillance video from 4:47 p.m. shows the tornado tearing through the area. Video from another nearby business shows sheet metal and debris being tossed in the air.

“To see that and to see just what was going on the other side of the wall is really crazy,” Thompson said. “Never been through anything quite like that.”

Businesses next to the gym were left damaged, with downed trees and power lines and roofs torn off. The tornado even flipped an 18-wheeler.

Those at the gym are thankful the business was spared.

“Just a couple leaks in the roof. Our sign ripped off the wall. Very minimal damage for us,” Tolbert said. “Actually, all of our certifications fell from the rumblings, so we got to get new picture frames, but other than that, I think we’ll be OK.”


About the Author:

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.