Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tornado Warning in Massachusetts!

Massachusetts experienced some insane weather today (June 1, 2011). While it may seem somewhat "tame" compared to what has been seen in the tornado-ravaged areas of the south recently, it was pretty crazy for Massachusetts. Starting mid-afternoon some bands of very heavy thunderstorms plowed through the state from West to East. It's still early, but from what I've seen and heard at least seven tornadoes touched down and at least four people have been confirmed dead as a result of the devastation (numbers which unfortunately are bound to go up as things get sorted out).

Our area (luckily) wasn't as hard hit as some other towns and cities (Springfield and Monson for example), but it was still a pretty scary afternoon and evening nonetheless. It wasn't just scary for me, but for The Little Monster as well. She is afraid of your garden-variety thunder and lightning, so you can imagine what she thought of today's extreme weather.

It all started innocently enough. At 4:00 I was just leaving the house to take The Little Monster to her ballet/tap dance class. Yes, I DO allow her to take part in non-monster related activities. As we were leaving, the sky was quickly darkening with heavy, threatening-looking clouds. I figured some late-afternoon thunderstorms were coming in after another hot (85 Degrees or so) day. All I wanted to do was get to the 4:30 class before the storm hit (and presumably quickly passed through). It wasn't until we were at the dance studio that I started hearing rumors and stories about tornado watches (less serious) and tornado warnings (more serious). I had the cell phone that The Wife and I share with me. This "cell phone" is something of a rarity today--it is literally just a phone. It doesn't have a camera. You can't access the internet from it. It doesn't play online games of have a GPS device. It apparently is capable of sending and receiving text messages, but I've never done that myself (should I be admitting that?). Though I had the cell phone with me, I couldn't get a signal--despite the fact that I was only about ten or fifteen minutes from home. The only source of information I had were the bits and pieces I was hearing from staff members and various parents who were arriving or leaving.

By the time The Little Monster's class started at 4:30 the nervousness was starting to settle in. Apparently a tornado (A TORNADO!) had just hit Springfield (about a half-hour west of us). By 5:00 reports seemed to indicate that something truly bad was headed directly for us. The Monster's class got out at 5:30, just as we heard the storm was five minutes away. The staff of the dance school strongly suggested that everyone currently inside remain there and head down to the basement level (and one of the classrooms/studios) rather than going outside. The teachers and parents who were there (including me) were all trying to usher our kids downstairs while attempting to downplay the potential danger we might be in (as well as the fear which was slowly starting to build in us). Of course this all just had to happen the day that The Wife had to go into work for a nighttime event. The Littlest Monster (aka The Creature, aka The Insane Beast) was actually staying at our neighbors' house up the street. We had asked them if they could watch her "for about a half-hour" between the time The Wife left for work and when I'd normally get back from dance class. I couldn't reach them by the cell phone with no signal, but was able to call from a landline and let them know we'd be a wee bit later than expected. They were very understanding.

The sky continued to darken until it looked like it was midnight. We all went into the smallish room and the teachers started playing music and engaging the kids in a game of Freeze Dance. The music at least partially drowned out the sound of the rain and the thunder, and at least partially kept the kids from thinking too much about what was really happening. It was a strange scene to find myself in--a room filled with fifteen or twenty youthful dance students and a handful of adults--all the kids dancing and playing games (Seven-Up) while we all tried to ignore what was unfolding outside. The Little Monster is pretty bright and repeatedly asked me what was going on and why we were staying after class instead of going home. She obviously sensed that something wasn't exactly right. Luckily she seemed to believe my attempts to downplay both the possible danger as well as my own somewhat nervous state.

By 6:15 it appeared that the worst was over, and I decided that it would be safe to leave. I figured it was one big band of storms passsing through and had no idea that in reality there were a number of bands. We actually got out to the car (amid the poor Little Monster's cries of "I'm Scared!") without getting wet. There was thunder and lightning, but the rain appeared to have stopped. Unfortunately, it started again as we pulled out of the parking lot. It got progressively worse until I could hardly see out the windshield. We pulled into a parking lot to wait for it to pass. After about ten minutes the rain completely stopped again. Unfortunately, a little further down the road there was a deep "puddle" (doesn't seem like a big enough word) at an intersection which I didn't dare go through with my little, low-to-the-ground Honda. I turned around and took a different route home which passed over a big hill on winding, less-than-great roads. Luckily we only encountered one more big puddle that I was able to ford safely by going through it very slowly.

When we got home I was very relieved to see the giant old oak tree in our front lawn still standing. We retrieved The Creature from the neighbors and returned home just in time for the next wave of thunderstorms. The Sheriff's Department called to let us know (via recorded message) that dangerous weather was happening and we should seek shelter (very comforting). I also found out later that The Wife heard the Emergency Broadcast signal on the radio (but it was an actual signal and not the regular tests one usually hears (also very comforting). The Little Monster did surprisingly well with all the noise and flashes of lightning. The Littlest Monster was oblivious (ah, the innocence of a two-year-old). I tried to put The Little monster to bed before the final wave hit around 8:00. We had been reading installments of an old book of mine called "The Abominable Snowman" (written for young readers) before naps and bedtime for a couple days. I did have concern that it could spark nightmares, but she insisted on reading it, and her sleep didn't seem to suffer much. But tonight just didn't seem like a good night to be reading about Yetis. Instead we read "The Little Engine that Could". The final wave of storms rolled in just as I said "Goodnight" to her.

Within ten minutes the thunder had become loud enough to get The Little Monster crying. I went in to lie down with her until it got quiet once again--about9:00. We were lucky enough to have been spared the worst of the weather. As The Monster slept The Wife returned home from work safe and sound and we watched the news coverage of the areas that weren't as lucky as us. All our little town really experienced was high winds, heavy rains (with thunder and lightning), hail and some flooding.

Here's some scary video of one of the tornadoes that hit Springfield (MA)

And, here's a little video I took from our back door stoop of the last bits of the storm. I missed the "good stuff", but at least captured a bit of what we saw that evening.

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