The Extrahuman Union

Tornado Story

Posted on: June 2, 2011

Yesterday, I left work at 3pm (leaving early because I opened the library) and decided to walk over to my wife’s workplace, about a mile and a half away, in another part of Springfield. We carpool, and she had the car. I thought about staying, there was a severe storm out there that might hit the city, and there was a tornado watch in effect. This being Massachusetts, though, I didn’t take the tornado warning seriously. Why would I? Tornadoes are a once-in-a-generation event around here. I mostly worried about being caught in the rain.

I walked as fast as I could through the humid, gray, windy afternoon. The streets were oddly empty of people; everyone was staying inside. I made it without incident, though it got progressively darker, more humid and windier as I drew nearer. I got into the car and emailed my wife. I was half an hour early. She suggested I come wait inside with her, just to be safe (this is a very small car, mind you). I agreed.

We watched the weather on her computer, and decided to wait for the storm to pass before trying to go home. The tornado watch changed to a tornado warning. At some point, their boss came out to tell us a tornado had been spotted crossing the Connecticut River downtown, only a few miles away. We headed for the basement, and spent a tense few minutes in an interior room there.

When we emerged, it seemed like nothing had changed. We got into the car and started driving home. A few branches were down here and there. Emergency vehicles streaked down the streets I’d walked. I worried about the college and my friends there, but we decided just to get home. When we got downtown, more visible signs of damage appeared. Traffic slowed to a crawl, and we soon discovered why. Many of the streets leading to the highway were blocked by downed trees.

We finally made it to the highway, and as we drove south I caught a glimpse of a building with its roof off. We still didn’t comprehend the real damage the storm had caused until we got home, and could see the pictures coming in over the internet. This gallery from the Hartford Courant shows serious damage in Springfield, West Springfield, Monson and other places.

The college where I work suffered damage, the tornado passed right through campus. One of our dorms looks like a bomb hit it. Trees are down, including several well-loved landmarks. Across the lake from the college, houses are said to be sliding down the hill into the water. The neighborhood around the college was especially hard hit, this video was taken on a street very near. I walk or drive there every day, and I was shocked to see how bad it was. Apparently people are sheltering in the MassMutual Center, a hockey arena, downtown. I hope they’re all safe.

We spent a few more hours last night worried about strong storms heading our way, and retreated to the basement with the cats when the skies turned yellow in advance of a nasty-looking cell. Thankfully, it turned out to be nothing.

Today, we’re both staying home. The college is closed until further notice, and it seems smart to keep people off the streets in any case. I have no idea when, or if, things will get back to normal there.

I thought at the time that it might have been foolish to walk to my wife’s workplace while the storm brewed. It turns out that I unintentionally made the best choice I could have. If she had come to pick me up, we would have been there right at the time the tornado was ripping through our route home. A co-worker on Facebook posted a harrowing account of a close encounter with the funnel while in her car. And I’m glad I went inside, and that we decided to wait out the storm instead of driving home.

In the end, it came down to pure dumb luck. Sometimes, that’s just the way it goes. It could very easily have gone the other way.

Thanks everyone who was worried about us, we’re fine. People in Springfield aren’t, though. The damage is even worse than what you’ve likely seen on the news. Keep them in your thoughts, okay?

And when a tornado warning is issued, take it seriously.

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Susan Jane Bigelow’s Extrahuman Union

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