Monday, August 22, 2016

Heart Thumping, Mind Wheeling, Hail Thrashing - TORNADO!

(Sorry for the long post)

Summer can be a dangerous time for some. More dangerous than a simple sunburn or the risk of skin-cancer. The weather phenomena called the 'tornado' is a destructive force that strikes every summer - it's expected on the North American plate, where the conditions are just right.

Growing up, I always had a morbid fascination for tornadoes. When I say "morbid" I mean: "I find this fascinating, yet also terrifying". The mechanics of how tornadoes formed fascinated me, but the destruction and the lives they took frightened me to death.

I never thought I would ever have to hide from the threat of one. Sure, when my mother, grandmother, cousin and I were travelling across Canada when I was six, we drove through this weird cloud that stretched across the highway that had lead us about halfway across Saskatchewan. Mom could barely see and I can remember how her shrieking had my heart dancing in my throat - an experience I hadn't endured before, since I was only six and that was the first time I remember being out of my home province since I was 2 years old (though my parents traveled to the USA a lot when I was younger than that).

A few years later, my mother and I discovered that the weird cloud, that acted like a solid wall of dust, was caused by a tornado. We never saw a tornado, and the dust seemed to just hang in the air. It was by God's prevention that we hadn't hit the tornado as we drove through its cloud, and that everyone that drove through it (the highway was packed with cars that day - that's why Mom was shrieking so much. She didn't know if she could slow down, speed up, or whether or not she was still on the road since we really only had about 20 feet of visibility in front of the nose of the car).

That was as close to a tornado as I would ever get, I thought, up until last night.

It's one thing to run into a tornado when you're outside of your home province, it's another when a tornado decides to visit you in your backyard.

Since I was six, my family has moved one province over, from British Columbia to Alberta. I live so far north in Alberta, in the Taiga Biome where it's normally wet and void of the conditions needed for a tornado to develop. The only thing different from my childhood home on the west coast is the fact we get thunderstorms here, and it's not as humid, or wet.

I've heard over the last few years that tornados have begun to pop up down south. A couple years ago a tornado touched down on a farm outside of Whitecourt, a town/small city only an hour away from when I live, and dissipated before it could leave the farm's boundaries. Edmonton has been struck by a couple devastating tornadoes... but I honestly didn't think one would touch down so close. Edmonton is farther from the Rocky Mountains than I am, thus leaving it open for the volatile mixing of cold air from the Rockies and the warm air from down south.

Last night, my brother came back from summer camp orienteering (it's soccer themed and he's been looking forward to it all year) and warned us that there was a tornado watch, something that was a surprise. The weather was so calm and peaceful. The wind was gentle and it was actually cool and slightly rainy. Dad jumped outside and looked up at the sky while I peered out the bay window in our living room. At 9:30 in the evening, it was still light out despite the fact it would be gone in the next 30 minutes. But when I looked out that window, a dark, ominous cloud was creeping across the sky, like a black ooze.

Mentally, I went "uh oh", since the last time I saw a cloud like that, I was in the car with my mom as we went to pick my brother up from VBS. The thunder and lightning were fierce, and the rain had poured from the roof of the church with the intensity comparable to someone running several water hoses an just letting the water splatter loudly to the concrete of the parking lot. The rain drops that hit my face and back as I ran from the car to the safety of the church felt like bullets and were at least the size of my thumb.

My mind flashed back to that storm, and how it had terrified me then. I wasn't looking forward to facing such a terrifying storm so late at night, not after the recent memory of a fierce thunderstorm that hit at six in the morning in late June (I think...), where a tree across the yard was struck and the thunderclap was so loud that it sent my cat running from my bedroom and caused me to jump out of fright and nearly scream.

I went about checking the Weather Network app (last night), and I was presented with a terrible surprise. According to the Weather Network, the tornado watch had been upgraded to a tornado warning! A tornado watch is when meteorologists see that the thunderstorm is behaving in a way that it could produce a tornado and devastating side-effects like harsh winds, hail, and driving rain. But a tornado WARNING is when a storm chaser or someone watching the storm has seen rotation at the base of the cloud (think the swirls left by the whisk in your home-made whipped cream or how the water in your kitchen sink sometimes when it spins and then forms a funnel shape as it goes down the drain).

I've never felt such fear before! Dad went out onto the deck again, and watched the sky since there was still enough light to see by. He said that the clouds were going west, then were going north, then east. They were going everywhere, and I knew something was going on since clouds did not do that.

So, after some debate on what we should do (should we ride it out on the main floor or should we go downstairs into the basement?) I ran down into the basement and grabbed one of the cat carriers. Rushing back upstairs, I located my cat and stuffed her into the carrier and carried her downstairs. Dad rushed outside to shut the quad shed since it is one of those flimsy tarp ones stretched over a frame, and he didn't want it to blow away, and I prayed that he would be safe.

Once Pebbles was downstairs, I packed up my laptop, my mother's laptop, my kindle, and some books. I couldn't remember if my laptop is insured and I need it for college so I wasn't going to take any chances. Dad made it inside as the storm began to hammer the house with hail, harder than I've ever experienced before. I was lamenting our outdoor kitties because they must have been so scared! I love them so much, and even if the tornado was weak enough to not cause too much damage if it came through the property we were renting, the shed the cats take shelter in is so weak and the old barn they like to explore has sat on a strange slant since the day it was built several decades ago.

F-0, or "cold-core" tornadoes as they call them when they're as weak as a dust devil but still appear to be a tornado, are still strong enough to lift mobile homes and blow over cat sheds.

I'm still trying to deduce if it was a wedge tornado or a tornado cloaked by rain by this shot.

We all hunkered down in the unfinished basement, on the little decorative couch my mother hopes to refurnish someday, and to help take our minds off the storm raging outside, I opened my laptop and we continued to watch The Flash episode we had been watching before my brother came home (Season 2, Episode 1, in fact, since I had bought it from Google Play). At some points I couldn't tell if it was the wind shrieking outside or the sound effects from the show, but I kept my mouth shut.

After the episode was over, we watched "The Unicorn Song" by the Irish Rovers on Youtube, and a clip from the Irish Rovers TV show. By then, the storm seemed to have quieted down, and moved off, so we let my cat out of the carrier, shut down my laptop, and moved upstairs.

It was too quiet after the rattling caused by the hail which drove us downstairs. I honestly thought we were going to lose something - a storm had never been so fierce to us before. My dad had checked Doppler radar on his phone and the part of the storm that eventually created the tornado in the pictures I showed in this post passed right over us.

If you can zoom in, there's a tiny triangle of a funnel cloud smack dab in the middle of the picture.

Stupid me has always wished to experience a tornado for the rush, but now that I've experienced a near-miss, I wish I could go back and slap myself. This experience was NOT fun, there was no rush! I suppose it was a by-product of my morbid fascination with tornadoes, and I know better now.

I want to go see if there was any damage left behind. I'm hoping my dad will take me today before it gets too dark.

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