The night of April 7, 2020 looked interesting to me. An approaching squall line bearing very active thunderstorms was moving rapidly toward us, approaching from the west-northwest. I hoped the storms would provide me with excellent chances at lightning photography. I was mistaken.
Shortly after I recorded what would be my only decent lightning photo of the night, my phone went crazy with emergency alerts: TORNADO WARNING! The city’s tornado warning sirens sprang to life.
I grabbed the camera and fled indoors.
Once inside we opened and occupied the only space we deem safe against storms — an office closet occupied by file cabinets and shelved storage.
Timidly I peered through an office window ready at any second to duck back to the closet to avoid flying debris, a falling tree, watching for a tell-tale funnel cloud. The wind bent neighboring trees farther than I though they could stand. Rain pummeled the side of the house, the anemometer registered 49 MPH at peak. A distinctly-blue flash lit the horizon from the direction of downtown — a power flash!
I continued hearing the roaring sound as it changed focus from northwest, to west, to the south. I never saw a funnel cloud but I heard the storm’s passage: it was a localized source, likely the tornado.
Looking at the radar depiction of the severe-warned thunderstorms a distinctive and ominous shape emerged from the colorful pixels — a hook — the signature of tornado activity. I realized the thing had passed quite close by!
But how close?
We stayed awake for an hour or so, too excited to sleep. Winds, rain, and thunder continued for a while, and slowly abated.
Finally to bed.
The next day I took a walk to survey the damage. I made a number of photographs, relaying them to the National Weather Service along with street locations hoping to help in their damage survey.
Broken branches and fallen trees were common along a path about two blocks south of our house. Fortunately deciduous trees were not in leaf, helping them survive the winds. Evergreens, with their limbs full of greenery and shallow roots, took the brunt of the damage and inflicted most of the damage I saw.
A small yellow house with a green metal roof and brand-new siding was damaged when a large pine tree was uprooted and blown over. The tree lay broken across the little house, whose owners suffered loss of the improvements but also mourned the loss of their grand tree.
There was much more damage around town: the root balls of toppled trees pulled up sidewalks and gas lines, smashed into houses, blocked streets.
To no one’s surprise, the National Weather Service determined the cause of all the mayhem was a tornado: Category EF-1, 100 MPH winds, 100 yards maximum width. Along the nearly 12-mile path the storm damaged other homes, left a scoured path across a field, and tore the sheet metal roof from a large pole barn. Much damage reported. No lives lost.
How close was the tornado to us? Too close.