I live at the northernmost reaches of tornado alley, the vast expanse of the American Midwest that is plagued with tornadoes every Spring and summer. The most famous of them is probably the Kansas twister that carried Dorothy to Oz, but there are hundreds of them every year and they're not all so imaginative. For the past two nights we've had tremendous thunderstorms here, a few of which spawned tornadoes.
Tornado frequency. There are no accepted boundaries for "Tornado Alley," roughly the large orange and red area at the left. If you map tornado deaths, the epicenter moves considerably eastward, since those areas have more population. My location is roughly at the green dot. Map courtesy Oklahoma Climatological Survey.
When the big storm cells came through on Monday, the kids were planning on going bowling. I kept them at the house, which turned out to be a good idea—three tornadoes touched down locally. The largest, in the Village of Eagle just west of where we are (my son went to YMCA day camp in Eagle when he was younger), damaged more than 100 homes and completely destroyed at least six. Where we are, the warning sirens were wailing above the roar of the wind and the sky was flickering with lightning. The crackling nearby lightning hits were tremendous, like sonic booms. The rain came down in a fury—an inch and a half in an hour or so. The county is still under a State of Emergency.
The Chief of the Eagle Fire Department, Justin Heim, age 27, was at the Fire Station trying to start the town's warning siren manually (it's been on the fritz for some time) when the tornado struck his own home—with his wife and two young daughters inside. The house was completely obliterated down to ground level. The Chief himself, as you might imagine, was among the responders to that call. "It's gone," he said. "There's nothing there. It's like someone took the house and it's gone." Fortunately, he'd left his loved ones in a protected area of the basement (another reason we have basements here!) before he left the house, so they were safe. A local resident allowed as how Chief Heim might have been allowed a little time to recover after he got his family settled into a nearby hotel, but he stayed on the job—and probably hasn't had a lot of sleep since. Makes sense—he's Eagle's only full-time fireman.
Everybody's playing innocent so far when asked about the non-functioning sirens, but local news quickly uncovered evidence of multiple failed inspections going back months. Fortunately, despite their absence, folks made it to their basements and no one out in Eagle was killed or seriously injured.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch house, my basement's full of puddles, so no more work on the darkroom for a while.
Send this post to a friend
Note: Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. More...
Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Ken Tanaka: "Glad to read that you're fine, Mike. This sure has been a week of turbulent early summer weather up here in the upper Midwestern U.S. Here in Chicago last Friday this monster rolled over Chicago near rush hour. (I was doing some unrelated photo work at the time and had a camera handy to grab this ominous scene.)
It blew-out quite a few windows in the Sears (a.k.a. Willis) Tower and several other buildings. Fun fun."
Featured Comment by Alexandre Buisse: "For a second, I had a vision of your basement full of poodles. That would definitely have been an issue for a darkroom...."
Mike replies: To say nothing of the issue it would be for my terrier. The level of excitement doesn't even bear thinking about.