063:336 Twister

Vignettes about tornadoes, not the classic party game.

These are my stories.


My first stint of living in the land where tornadoes are a seasonal occurrence (aka The Midwest) was when I lived in Illinois while attending Northwestern University. During a stormy spring evening in my freshman year, while I was inside a building editing film footage, a tornado siren began to wail. Now, I had seen movies and television shows where twisters had been depicted so I knew that I needed to find safety and the safest place to be during a tornado was the southwest corner of the basement.

As I made my way downstairs, I began to ask other people if they knew which direction was southwest. Most just stared at me, but there was one person (I later found out he was from Nebraska) who laughed at my fright and told me not to worry. He said there was nothing to be concerned about because the sky was not a certain shade of green that always – in his experience – heralded the arrival of a tornado.

Slightly embarrassed by my naiveté concerning twisters, I made my way back upstairs and continued my film project while the storm raged on outside.

I like to think that I would have had the last laugh. Near the end of that school year (June-ish, I’ll say), a rare earthquake hit the Chicago area. I was walking by one of the famous landmarks of the campus, The Rock, when the ground began to sway and shake. Now, born and raised in Southern California as I am, earthquakes are a regular feature that goes along with the fantastic weather, horrible traffic, and sandy beaches. So, for me, I gauged this trembler to be about a 4 on the Richter Scale and thought nothing of it. I continues my walk while all around me the Midwesterners and East Coasters all ran around looking for the nearest door frame to find safety under.


During the end credits of the spoof movie The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad (1988), there is this item among the lines telling you who the Transportation Co-Captain and Casting Associate were:

In case of tornado………………..SOUTHWEST CORNER OF BASEMENT

By the way, Robert E. McLaughlin was Transportation Co-Captain and Sue Swan was the Casting Associate. And now you know.


In 2004, my family and I were living in northern Virginia. Now, while this area has its share of storms, tornadoes are a rarity. However, “rare” does not equal “non-existent” and in September of 2004, what was left of Hurricane Ivan barreled into our neck of the woods and spawned a tornado. Unfortunately, this twister’s path came straight through our neighborhood and destroyed some homes (click here for pictures of the aftermath).

One of the homes was so damaged, that the owners had the entire house demolished. When the last day of October rolled around, what was once this family’s home was now just a concrete foundation surrounded by a chain link fence.

However, as this was Halloween night, the patriarch of the family whose house was no longer there sat in a lawn chair in front of the fence in front of the empty space that had been his home and was still handing out candy. When I and my children went to visit him and to sample the sweets he was offering, I do remember overhearing him say to one of the other neighborhood kids, who must have asked him why he was outside, “I’m out here tonight because my doorbell appears to be missing.”


Yesterday, April 6, 2017, there was a tornado warning where I work.

At around 1:30 in the afternoon, several smartphones in the cubicle farm that I work in began to vibrate, buzz, and chirp with the incoming alert from the National Weather Service that a tornado warning had been issued. A warning means that the conditions are right for a tornado to be spawned and that a twister could appear at any moment. Seek shelter immediately, the alert suggests.

I was out of my seat like a bullet and I started to make my way out of my second-floor office with the intention of making down into the basement via the stairwells.

I found myself alone taking this course of action as most of my fellow co-workers received the tornado warning alert and quickly rushed to the floor-to-ceiling windows to view the oncoming natural disaster.

So, please picture if you will, about twenty college-educated people standing inches away from a large expanse of glass anticipating the arrival of a natural destructive phenomenon whose main hazard is strong winds that tend to blow out windows.


Those are my stories.

P.S. As to what was transpiring in our house in 2004 as the tornado hit our neighborhood…well, that’s a story for another day.


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