Monday, September 28, 2020

Nature in the City, Part I: Tornado!

Living in the city, one can easily forget that no matter how much we think we are in control of our destinies, we all live under the forces of nature. Here are two posts about recent close encounters with Mother Nature, one terrifying, the other exhilarating. 

Chicago is one of those places that usually stays clear of nature's wrath. We're not near the ocean so we're spared the threat of hurricanes. Even though we are in the vicinity of a major fault line, The New Madrid Fault, the few earthquakes we get are generally too weak to notice. I slept through a recent quake and probably the most severe one in my life took place while I was riding the subway so while many friends felt the tremor, all I could feel was the normal vibrations of the train. 

Poor California not only has earthquakes to deal with but extreme draught conditions make much of that state vulnerable to wild fires such as those which are ravaging the Golden State as we speak. And the Gulf Coast constantly has to be on notice this time of year, hurricane season.

One thing we do get in this part of the country are tornadoes. I spent much of my childhood in fear of them, often being awoken in the middle of the night by air raid sirens which doubled as tornado warnings whenever a twister was spotted nearby, Fortunately we were always spared their wrath because those terrifying and unpredictable storms hardly ever make their way into the city and when they do their path of destruction is narrow. I have no idea why tornadoes typically avoid cities. My guess is that it's simply a matter of the luck of the draw, cities take up only a small part of the entire land mass of the country so the chances of a city being hit by a tornado is far less than everywhere else that is not a city. But that doesn't explain why some places seem to get more than their share of them, Plainfield, Illinois, a distant suburb of Chicago being an example.  

Anyway, our luck ran out last month when a tornado ripped through our neighborhood. Not only that, the storm's path ran directly along Jarvis, the street that dead ends into our building, then continues east to the lake. 

That morning I was a little excited because they predicted severe storms were heading our way. I guess I was just looking forward to a little something to break the monotony of quarantine. Besides I like storms, that is to say the ones we usually get in this area which involve thunder and lightning, a lot of rain, and this being Chicago, some wind. The storms we usually get are seldom accompanied by any destruction worth noting. 

I had to do some grocery shopping so I headed to the store earlier than I normally would have in hopes of beating the storm. As I headed back to my car with the groceries the sky looked ominous. The phone rang and I could see it was my daughter calling. As soon as I answered, a downpour started. Then came a sudden gust of wind. I couldn't hear her and as I was getting drenched and the wind was blowing everything all over the place,  I told her I'd call her back. At that point I was a little annoyed as I assumed she was calling to ask me to get her something from the store which I had just left. 

What I was experiencing, unpleasant as it was, didn't seem to me at all unusual. After I got in the car, I called my daughter back. She was frantic. "Get inside immediately" she told me. Foolishly I asked her why. It took several interrupted telephone conversations to put the pieces together, 

It turned out that she, my wife and my son, along with our cat, had left the apartment and were in the lobby of our building with several of our neighbors. Before departing, they saw trees bending in ways they shouldn't, small objects swirling about in a large circle, and a sickly green color in the sky. The whole nine yards.

"Holy shit..." I thought to myself, "...a tornado". By the time my daughter got a hold of me, the worst of it was over for them, they were just worried about me. They didn't need to because even though I was only a half mile away to the west, the twister was headed east toward the lake.  

Our building, a massive late 1920's luxury apartment building was unscathed by the storm, as were most of the buildings in our neighborhood. As you can see by the photograph, most of the damage was suffered to cars parked underneath trees that were uprooted by the storm. 

My first struggle was trying to get home as several streets were completely blocked by the fallen trees. But as I said, the path of destruction with these beasts is usually pretty narrow, and once I got back on the major through street, I was able to find alternate streets that were untouched. 

The other struggle not too surprisingly is that our electricity went out. The electric company told us we could expect to be without power for about five days. So much for most of the food I had just bought. 

Fortunately it didn't come to that and in the middle of our second dark night while we were all fast asleep, all the lights came on. 

Surveying the damage in the subsequent days, sure enough, street after street all the uprooted trees and squashed cars were within a swath probably no wider than the length of a football field. 

Given all the damage, it's a blessing that there were no serious injuries. Just lots of of survival stories which no doubt will get more and more harrowing as time goes on. 

Except for me that is as once again, I completely missed it. 

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