Thursday, June 02, 2011

Stormy Weather

photo.JPGThanks for all your concern, gentle readers.  We are located in Northampton, Massachusetts which is 15 minutes north of Springfield where a tornado touched down yesterday afternoon.  Here in Northampton the weather was intense and scary but there were no tornadoes that I know of.  At one point, in the building that I was in, a security guard came around and told everyone that there had been reports of tornadoes in Northampton and that anyone who wanted to could go to the basement level.

The internet and the iphone were buzzing with activity.  Facebook, was a scrolling series of warnings and alerts.  The weather websites were flashing.  Text messages were coming in.  But my favorite radio station that I listen to most days just went on like normal.  There was no Public Broadcast Alarm or anything.  If it wasn't for the internet I'd have had no idea that this insane destruction was happening just a few miles away.  I watched the tornado form almost live through the skycam from the local tv stations on their websites.  I felt like I was watching a disaster movie as the twister swept across Memorial Bridge, churning up the Connecticut River.

Meanwhile, I was in contact with Lesa who was in Springfield at the time.  The monster passed not far from the building she was in and her phone access died almost immediately.  Too many people were making calls.  We were able to keep in contact thanks to instant messages on the computer.

How did people know what was happening in the old days?

It was 4:30 here and the center of Northampton was as dark as midnight.  Ten minutes later, I set out to walk home as the sun cut through the low clouds that were moving in many levels in all directions.  The walk was quiet and strange.  The light outside was foreign and seemingly artificial.  I glanced up again at the dark dramatic clouds and I saw a blue heron silently flying overhead.  Was it feeling an oncoming attack?  Had it blown here from down south?  It's giant wings seemed to be moving in slow motion as it passed.

Later as I approached my house, a single rabbit walked gingerly across the road into my yard.  "Animals know things" I thought.

At the house, I checked the backyard.  Everything was in place.  No branches were down, the patio furniture hadn't moved.  The bird feeders hadn't blown away.  I'd read reports from friends of large hail at their homes, not more than a mile away, but I saw no sign of any of that at our place.

Inside, I flipped on the TV and and spent the next four hours watching the news and instant messaging with Lesa.  Her building was spared but she was staying there because traffic would be certainly stand-still in all the chaos.  Besides, the radar map clearly showed more giant masses of dark red heading in her direction.  I flipped between news channels and settled on WWLP 22.  They seemed to be concerned with presenting the oncoming weather more than the others who seemed more focused on showing the damage in Springfield.  There will be plenty of time to learn about that, I thought, but right now I want to know if any more severe weather is on its way.

Outside, the sky turned dark yellow and the trees and grass seemed to all start glowing.  I took a picture and posted it on Facebook and then I saw about ten more identical pictures from friends.  People kept saying "that's a tornado sky!" but the meteorologist on the TV explained the yellow was really simply because the sun had gone below the horizon.  Suddenly the TV switched to their skycam over Northampton, less than a mile from my sofa and the sky there was black, Intense thunderstorms were moving through.  At my place, the wind whipped up once or twice and a few raindrops fell.  From the front yard, I could see the edge of the storm just passing over me.

Lesa instant messaged me that it was dark as night and there was relentless lightning where she was.  A woman who had left her building returned after being gone for two and a half hours.  She was not able to get home.

I glanced out the window and two sparrows alighted on the bird feeder and just like that, the clouds blew over and the wind stopped.  The temperature had dropped, the humidity was erased, and I got a message from Lesa that she was on her way to her car and heading home.

It was a harrowing and intense evening and I personally wasn't at any point really in the thick of any danger.  I can't even imagine what it must have been like to those in the path of the tornado.

I'm so happy to live in a time when we can all connect and find out instant information so easily.  Of course, you need electricity for that, but even in a black-out I'd have access with my phone, at least until the battery died.  I was able to check up on friends south of me and to also answer friends who were checking up on me and Lesa.  I was able to follow the path of the storms on the TV and on my computer and on my phone.  It's magic.

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