Wednesday, April 13, 2011

5 years ago today

Iowa City tornado
April 13, 2006
(Courtesy of the National Weather Service)

Aftermath of April 13, 2006 tornado in Iowa City
(Photo by Matthew Holst, Iowa City Press Citizen)

Today is the 5-year anniversary of the 2006 Iowa City tornado. I was teaching a Utility class at a friend's building at North Liberty, which is 4 miles north of Iowa City. It's the closest I've ever come to being "caught in a tornado."

The afternoon was clear and unusually warm for April. I watched the weather on TV before taking off for SueAnn's to train Jamie before class. Although there was a severe thunderstorm watch out for the area, there were no storm cells on radar. When I got to SueAnn's place, she came out and said there was a line of thunderstorms to the west that would bear watching.

What? Thirty minutes ago, there'd been nothing. They'd formed that fast. With assurances SueAnn would monitor the weather, I worked Jamie and started class.

We were about half way through class when the sky started to darken. Being seasoned Midwesterners, all of my students took turns being self-appointed sky watchers and peeking out the door. The wind kicked up and it began to rain. So far, so good.

Then the hail started. Hail sounds awful, no matter how big it is. Even little pea-sized stuff sounds like buckshot. This hail sounded like someone was dropping bowling balls on the roof. I'd give up any attempt at instruction, since no one could hear themselves think, and we were all sort of milling around, cringing at the racket.

Then Tracy, who was stationed by the door, pulled her head back inside and being the professional she is, calmly announced, "SueAnn says ya'll need to get in her basement There's a tornado on the ground and it's headed this way."

We all heard that just fine.

We bolted from the building and sprinted the short distance from the training building to the house. I would say we did this with "dogs in tow" but to be honest, the dogs were leading the pack, especially Jamie who takes a very dim view of any sort of severe weather.

Did I mention it was still hailing? Did I mention the hail was about the size of quarters? Do you know what it feels like to get hit with a hailstone the size of a quarter? Take a large ice cube, cut jagged edges on it and then have someone throw it at you as hard as you can. Then have them throw about 25 ice cubes at a time and you'll come close. I had welts on the back of my neck and arms. Jamie, being covered with thick fur, fared better.

There were about 8 of us and all our dogs, plus SueAnn and her boxers, hiding in the basement. Fortunately, she has a very nice, large, clean, well-lit basement and we were very comfortable there. Jamie still thought death was imminent. Tracy fed him hot dogs and tried to convince him otherwise. He was fine as long as the hot dogs held out. I decided if I had to chose people to hide from a tornado with, I would definitely choose dog friends.

We listened to the local radio station, which was broadcasting one National Weather Service bulletin after another. There were multiple tornadoes that evening, including the one (classified as a strong EF2) that tore up a good section of Iowa City. It seemed like just as one tornado watch was canceled, another one was issued.

Fortunately, none came any closer to us. When we emerged from the basement an hour later, I totally expected to find broken windows and huge dents in my van. Amazingly - nothing. The only dents were in my skin. Just a few miles to the south, there was considerable destruction.

When I finally got home that evening, the Farmer was sound asleep. I woke him up. He'd slept through the whole thing. Apparently the line of storms had formed practically right over our house, about 20 miles west of Iowa City, then moved eastward, strengthening as they went.

Ya gotta love spring in Iowa.

But I really don't want to hide in anyone's basement again. Especially ours. It's not nearly as nice as SueAnn's.

1 comment:

  1. I was at work in downtown Iowa City. I (stupidly) watched out the window on the 4th floor until I saw the funnel cloud coming over the river and all the hair on my body stood up. I grew some brains and ran for the basement. A drunk was standing on the ground floor of the building and kept saying the dumpster chased him down the alley! It did - the wind blew it. What an incredible mess. I really don't want that kind of excitement again any time soon.