I was sitting on my front porch observing the dark clouds roll in as my dog, Ari, played in the yard. Growing up in the Midwest, it’s what we always did – witness the gray-black storm clouds billow across the horizon, watch for lightning in the distance, then count the seconds until we’d hear the thunderclap follow. This was how we gauged how many miles away the storm was from us. When there were only one or two seconds between the lightning flash and the thunder, it was time to go in if the rain hadn’t ushered us indoors already. This time was different though. Ari came running up to the front door frantic to go inside. I thought it was strange behavior as the storm was a ways off, and she is not the least bit afraid of thunder or loud noises. But as I opened the door, it sounded like a train was barreling down the street; however, I live nowhere near any train tracks! Instinctively, I scooped up my dog and headed down to the basement just as an emergency alert on my phone sounded, and the city’s tornado sirens started echoing in the distance.
It all happened so fast. Less than a minute before, I was enjoying a calm evening outside, and now I was hunkered down in the midst of a tornado. It was loud, and for a moment I could see the trees in my backyard bending parallel to the ground. Then I couldn’t see anything at all; the wind and rain created a gray wall outside my windows leaving me to only guess what was crashing down around me. The lights flickered several times before finally leaving me in the dark. As quickly as the tornado formed, it moved on just as fast, and after about ten more minutes of heavy rain, I saw rays of the sunset peeking through the clouds.
I emerged from my house to find neighbors outside assessing the damage. There was debris everywhere; planters, trash cans, and tree limbs littered driveways and yards, the roadway was flooded with two feet of water and stalled cars, a few driveways had caved into the culvert, and huge pine trees on both ends of the street were uprooted and sprawled across the road, blocking traffic in and out of our street. Out back, kayaks and floats were strewn about, and numerous trees had collapsed into the lake. A tree next to my driveway had fallen onto the hood of my car, tearing down part of the gutter system as it toppled. Also, the huge power surge fried my generator. However, I fared a lot better than most of my neighbors, and our area’s damage was not nearly as extensive as the neighborhood one mile north of us that took the brunt of the destruction. Even six days later, the sound of chainsaws is the background music to my day.
The tornado was classified as an EF-1 with wind speeds around 100+ MPH, which is actually considered weak. However, it was enough to leave most of the city without power for three days and me without cell service or internet for four days. With temperatures reaching 90 degrees and high humidity, it was nearly unbearable not having air conditioning. I ended up sleeping on my deck one of those nights.
It was a scary ordeal that I hope I never have to experience again, but there were several things that warmed my heart afterwards. As Mister Rogers once said, in regards to scary things, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” And I found just that. Not only were neighbors checking on each other and helping with clean up, those that had generators opened their homes for people to sleep, shower, get water, and store their cold and frozen foods to keep from spoiling. My neighbor, who had cell coverage through a different provider than me, allowed me to come check email and make calls from his phone each day.
I’m grateful for the helpers, and I’m thankful that the damage to the community wasn’t worse. I cannot imagine the devastation of areas that have been hit by major natural disasters that leave residents homeless and without resources for weeks on end. Aside from purchasing a new generator, I now have a disaster plan to be better prepared should anything like this happen in the future.