TORNADO***CHASEE

A STRANGE AND HORRIBLE DAY

(photos at bottom of post to depict (as best I could create) cloud color like that often associated with funnel forming conditions)

This is about the Oak Lawn tornado that happened during a spring outbreak in April of 1967.

It has been referred to me, by the person I predicted it to about an hour before it happened, at the last class of the day, as; “(Benafia). You and your tornado!” When school resumed many days (3weeks?) later, that room was the last remaining open on that floor of the high school. Plywood boarded off the rest to the southwest. Nearly two dozen people died in my town. (Now I have learned it was 33 deaths. I found a site on recollections of that days events.)

Anyone who has been in this kind of natural disaster, might recall how reality seemed turned on its head. That day National Guard rifles were pointed at we kids as we walked down the middle of the street. They asked us what we were doing in an angry tone, rifles pointed at us. (We were where you were told to walk; not near stores, down the center of the highway. We had been out checking on some of our relatives and friends.)

Sirens went on and on. There is no power and so no news but rumors. Electric clocks everywhere were stopped at that fateful moment for some time to come, in some cases months or more. When I got home from the terrifying “normal” trip to the store to bring pop to my terminally ill (one of the longest living survivor of a blood cancer at that time) step brother who was working, favorite trees were gone. We got that pop to him at the job another block north. (I worked there on weekends, Friday evening, Saturday and 2am Sunday morning to sometimes afternoon ($1.00 an hour). Anyway, in the parking lot at his work there was a two by four going right through someones windshield. Debris was everywhere.

A HALF HOUR BEFORE

Earlier, we had left home for the four block walk to the store after waiting out an exceedingly wicked electrical storm. It passed and it cleared up a bit. Leaving to the store, there was an ominous sense of pushing ones chances with the unknown.

While just into the grocery store and up the first aisle a bit, a man ran in saying there’s a funnel cloud outside. He was quite excited about it. I thought I have to see if this is true. I was an avid weather watcher, so I went out on 95 street to look and could not fathom the odd sloped wall dragging down from the sky to the west. It seemed a mix of brown pushing into that eerily gray to yellowish brown green that I have come to see in the cloud atmosphere around future funnels. Since it was just three quarters to a mile from us at the time, I could not see the other side of the funnel. My memory is of an inexplicable fuzzy sloped wavering wall dragging into an oddly greenish sky. That time of my viewing would place it very near the touchdown point at Southwest Highway and 95th St.

With the wind staring to howl, two younger step brothers and my younger sister went back into the store with me into the fruit bin area. We went to the back of the store to be away from the huge wall of windows on the stores north side. I thought; man, is this ever the worst palace to be, a grocery store full of potential projectiles. That jet and train engine combo roar built up and seemed to shake the air. It went pitch black. I reached out and touched someone. I said; “George. Is that you?” He said” Yeah. It’s getting hard to breathe.”

OH! THIS IS DIFFERENT.

I had never heard of this vacuum experience phenomenon before. I prepared for the onslaught of glass and cans as the roof came down. Suddenly, dying seemed close at hand. I was trying to get us away from shelves that could fall on us when time just ran out. Time disappeared with the light and the waiting, seconds or a few minutes, I can’t quite recall. Then light came back through the store windows, the sound rapidly diminishing. Rushing outside, the clouds were whirling in the opposite direction as I last looked. Pieces of fence, roof shingles and all kinds of tree debris and metal objects were on the road. We paid for the pop left at the counter and went back on our mission.

Later, out exploring after running home, then going out looking for where the emergency vehicles were really heading, when we got to near the high school, total devastation started. The cement gymnasiums pool roof had gone into the pool. We walked on cement beams, some that dove into the water, looking and listening, since someone said they heard a voice in the water. A man came up and asked us what we were doing there. We told him of the voice someone heard, and it seems memory has it that he said; ‘It has been checked out. It is too dangerous for us to be there.’ Across the diagonal highway, a young girl (9yrs old?) in a trench coat was picking up surviving whiskey bottles from a liquor store, and hiding them in her long coat.

I asked my older sister at home what they did during the storm. I wanted to make sure they went into the basement. We always had this plan to go to the southwest corner of the basement (I know, that is not a good place to go.), which was two thirds underground, into the old coal room. She said they heard the noise and were looking out the window. They could see garbage cans and all kinds of stuff flying sideways down the street, so they ran into the basement.

WHEN WHAT WAS VANISHES

You could see through town as if a mysterious trail has been blazed, where buildings and homes once were. We heard horror stories from just moments before; someone allegedly impaled out in the athletic field. A bus was upside-down on top of a three story house left standing, I seem to remember. That looked even more unbelievable than the generalized devastation. The bus stations collapse killed some (?). And now another storm was starting to form some couple hours later, so we had to head home 5 blocks away north. I touched a leaning telephone pole and saw four or five others down the line start to move. I could not believe they were so close to seemingly falling. Our house missed annihilation by about one block.

Many times that year, the tornado warning sirens would go off. Once I ran out of where I was working to see it pitch black out west. I began to suspect that when clouds are that black, something has drawn soil into the air. We were all on edge that summer as much severe weather occurred. Another time at around six on Sunday morning at work, someone said there is a strange cloud coming down. I went out to look and it was a finger like projection of a wall cloud. I could see it act like some kind of conveyor belt, just blocks away and getting nearer, almost touching the ground, yet not a tornado. The clouds top was going one way, its bottom the other, as its thunderstorm approached from the northwest.

Another aspect of the 1,000 people injured that day carried grim news into the future. A stepbrothers swimming team friend was in the emergency room, his face wrapped and I believe several broken bones, not knowing if he would see again. His dad had picked him up from practice. My stepbrother, when visiting him a day(?) later, was not to tell him his father died being sucked out of the car window at the intersection. That is how I remember hearing it. My second youngest stepbrother had his confirmation canceled at St Gerald’s for that night, understandably.

INVISIBLE ME

There was a famous (have seen it on TV in historic tornado footage) shot of my former grammar school damage where the tornado lifted enough to stop destroying homes, (except mobile homes a mile further up, at least 1 death there.). If you ever happen to see it, 16 year old me was standing right behind that photographer at that moment. I believe there are a few nuns and a priest in it, not sure. That is the one I am trying to get on this post. It is strange in that way, it is what my own eyes remember exactly.

You could smell the wet or rotting plaster and wallpaper then, it smelled of oldness. I took six roles of film on some cheap little spy camera from Japan I ordered from a magazine, that I had never tried out before. Did not develop the hundred or so photos, as the little roles of film vanished in time.

One tree at the southwest corner on St Gerald’s School lot had something like a 1″ by 6″ board going right through the middle of a branch 20 feet up (?). I took never to be seen photos of ground down trees, brick homes half eaten away at the edge of the tornadoes trail. Many dramatic angles from the beginning to the end of the tornadoes track. In most intense tornadoes of F-3 and up (that one EF5), you will see these same scenes; trees holding someone’s couch, buses and cars crinkled and put into piles and stuck into homes as if they were origami paper vehicles, and the insides of homes scattered and mixed with everyone elses. Devastation takes on a certain shocking similarity.

GETTING HOME

The tornado killed the huge elm trees that were the landmark in our front yard, where as I child I would sit between their large root–to trunk legs. Sometimes many of us sat in our own trunk niche. Our trustworthy large apple tree split in half. We had to climb through it to get to the house.

The east west highway in front of the house was blocked for a while, as chainsaws growled away on the widest Elm that split in half. You could see those Elm trees from up to ten (?) miles away, when up on the other side of the moraine deposit on the other side of old glacial Lake Chicago. They were a plume of green rising above a sea of green. An underground stream (my father said, and our lower yard drop and uplift at the neighbors across a grass lot indicated) happened to flow beneath them, they always had all the water they wanted. My father had said to us as kids that those trees were invincible, lasting all these years being often hit by lightning and ferocious storms. One myth ended, very near his own vincible (month later suicide) end.

As it turns out that tornadic day, another high school in session about an hour or more before was hit. That town had even more casualties, I believe, leaving that tornado I was in, kinda off the Weather Channels radar when I watched a special on it of that days outbreak. (I have now learned that is wrong about that town having more casualties, but that high school had several deaths, giving it a more concentrated impact to a tragic similar narrative for those families.)

Ours was a wedge tornado in the photo (I remember the photo being called something like; A portrait of a killer.) and the one side I could see, must have been F3+, (just learned F-4) the radar image shown in coming papers (as I recall), had it seeming to have its own spiral band of storms feeding into it, (the prior intense lightning storm?) leading me to believe it was so well organized and long lasting a super-cell, that it may have been the same storm that hit the other school. Just guessing.

“YOU AND YOUR TORNADO!”

A very shy guy (me) blurting out; “There’s going to be a tornado!” to the kid next to him, I believe, picked up on the subconscious currents that some of us know, moves between those of us open to receive them at unpredictable times. That is the one and only time I told anyone there is going to be a tornado. I had forgotten all about my prediction until I went to class that day. My tornado? How is that?

Someone on the History Channel special on this tornado, ridiculed the notion that a massive body of water could influence a storm because tornadoes are “warm air storms” exactly why that cool air that chills downtown Chicago in summer is not near as warm! One would need to explain why upper F scale tornadoes do effect small towns around Chicago, even repeatedly, while big old Chicago, at worst, gets dwindling funnels. I would not say under very special conditions, a serous tornado could not hit Chicago, but it defies odds to explain why it has not, as not being the one really big influence at the city’s shore. The day of that tornado the Great Lake would have been 30 or more degrees cooler.

It is quite common to have a “watter spout” hazard issued on the Great Lakes, at least while I was there, and no Tornado Watch issued. Yes a tornado over watter will become a watter spout of sorts, but there is a difference in the general phenomenon. A paradoxical but not contradictory phenomenon occurs with the average water spout. Usually the relatively smooth but humid lake atmosphere can allow rope-vortices’s to descend to the surface, because of the stability. These normally dissipate near the more harsh surface on land.

Many a watter spout would not be considered in the F-3 and plus range (except a tornado hitting a small lake–the rain of fish and frogs.). The Oak Lawn tornado making such a “good” watter spout speaks to this stability factor allowing the funnel to reestablish its thorough surface connection in appearance. This was an intensely rotating super cell just minutes before, so that rotation was allowed to regain a solid appearance, but I doubt seriously it held the same updraft intensity as the land based F-4. This is my opinion.

This storm was called the Oak lawn tornado because that is where the strongest point of that storms development was, after that something ate away at it. My guess is Lake Michigan was a primary factor. Traveling at 65 mph, it would seem unlikely that such a mammoth well developed storm had strangled itself with its own cold air downdraft’s wrapping into it. All that in under one minute! Yet perhaps from the storms “perspective”, it had gotten close enough to the Great Lake to draw in and entrain this counterbalancing influence of cooler, stable air. It is also a bit difficult to imagine a pulsing supercell to essentially phase in under one minute. Yes, I am speculating.

The History Channel special did not claim this person was anything but a survivor like me. I would imagine that for safety sake, meteorologist might not agree with me since it might have people near any lake or branch of a Great Lake, think they are immune. I was shocked to hear some people who had a tornado, think they we immune because they lived in a valley! Variables make a difference, depleting a tornadoes fuel by wrapping in cooler air is how many tornadoes diminish, just as dry air wrapping into hurricanes weakens them. Snicker and ridicule all one wishes.

Lake Michigan. That is what I believe was the savior that day. The tornado could possibly have gone many more miles through solid cityscape as a monster. Once cool and more stable air got entrained or sucked in off the waters large cooling effect mass, it probably pulled most of the energy on that hyper intense uplift of hot humid air. You had an F-4 drop down and get pulled right back up in less than a mile, progressively dimming of the F scale rapidly, while heading right for the corner of the Great Lake. This is likely why Chicago’s downtown is virtually safe from an intense tornado, but I would never say, given the right wind speeds angle and storm formation development, that it is an absolute impossibility, if in some way the low cool air uptake is negated.

CRISIS EUPHORIA, OR HUMANS BEING TRUE?

Working as a volunteer on clean-up after the storm, changed my perception on what being a human in this world of life and humanity, is all about. It is about being there for one another. We did what needed to be done, and we enjoyed being of such great help.

{I have attempted to approximate the color of some funnel clouds proceeding classic unusual greenish tint. It has been said (in a very liberal sense) that hail is natures tornado watch. Usually a hail storm would require some other atmospheric spin in differing level winds through the atmospheric vertical profile. I believe this greenish to yellow brown strange cast to some thunderstorms, again very liberally, is considered natures tornado warning, along with any notable rotation in a wall cloud or descending cloud structure of course.}

img_0491_2.jpg

and from my local photos from last years monsoon storms.

img_0353_2.jpg

and

(my photo’s from my home during 2007 monsoon season storms)

When you see that unusual color you will probably know it. For me it carries an ominous sense to it; clouds usually are never that color, especially away from sunset or sunrise. I have not studied the color issue. Long ago I heard a theory that tornadoes might be a type of natural motor, with some kind of ionization creating the odd sky color. Many tornadoes seem to have a lack of lightning, but not all. Transformers and other power sources exploding can make it seem like lightning at the bottom. Not all storms with the color by any means, all produce known rotations.

When watching weather radars, rotating storms, usually super-cells, can have quite a round shape on radar. During the radar loop you can pick out at times the rotation of the echo loop. Not all super-cells are round, but tornadic ones setting up a continuous flow (possibly relatively long lasting) can have a little hook near the seeming trailing edge (often southwest-south-southeast side of storms moving from a southwest direction). There is often where the funnel is near the tip, right above it, possibly causing the radar arch in a counter clockwise manner drawing out the tail like appearance. (There are on rare occasion clockwise rotating funnels.) Usually Doppler radar picks up the differing speeds on the opposing wind echo sides of the funnel. Take their indications seriously when you here that spin is detected by radar. Do not wait for a weather spotters report for confirmation.

On many occasions I have called a storm as having a tornado by my above radar viewer depictions, before the weather service does. No ESP necessary. They have to type out and clear the info. for the newscaster, which probably accounts for part of the delay, and or wait for the severe weather expert to confirm the suspicious indications.

I hope I was able to give you some information regarding tornadoes that will help to keep you safer in the future. Nowhere in the US can be said to be absolutely immune from their development, well, maybe in northern Alaska and exceptions like that, to be more precise. Cold air funnels (a more upper air event) could conceivably cause an incidence above a high mountain range, but do not quote me on that! I beleive if they rope down to the ground, though tecknically a tronado, a warning is not issued. But these days one might, don’t quot me on that either.

My XFilez page goes into my other funnel cloud and tornado encounters, lending more meaning to the title Tornado Chasie. I’ll spare you the search…

Here

This one is just a bizarre coincidence I became aware of over the years. As time went by, I had to stretch its parameters to have the coincidence still fit. Yet it is strange in an amazing way none the less.

When I left my guardians home for good under threat of death. I moved in with my oldest sister in another suburb far to the north. I lived there about a year, working and saving up money for the move to California. The first week there, a tornado did some damage in the town.

The time I finally moved to the Bay Area of California, that day a funnel cloud is spotted over the World Series game close in Oakland. Its picture in the paper the next day I believe.

The next big move many years latter to Oregon, a rare funnel cloud is seen in the area.

My next big move to the Portland Oregon region, another rare tornado is seen near Astoria a day or two latter. It took about an hour and a half (maybe more) for that storm to make it to where I was. There was quite an unusually bad thunderstorm for there, then that gray-green sky aura that tends to be predictive of funnel cloud development.

Next big move to Tucson AZ I cannot recall any funnel clouds as I type, but somehow I believe the weird streak stayed intact. The next biggish move from the apartment to a house in Tucson we owned two years latter, standing in front talking to the real estate agent after final closing. I am looking above the Catalina mountains north of us. I point out to my partner and the agent that that is a cold air funnel cloud. We watched the rope of it slightly descending from a dark cloud. We were a bit freaked out, but cold air funnels are usually not going to ever make it to the ground. They can occur in conditions not usual to tornadoes that do damage, being that they are mostly an upper air event.

Ten days and many years later after another big move, but in Tucson, a monsoon period thunderstorm is coming right at us. The wind keeps rising from the east until it seems above hurricane force and I say; “We need to get away from these windows.” Blinding rain and small branches were going sideways. For a couple minutes the wind rages, now it has switched to the west.

Later we learn a tornado warning was issued for that storm, Doppler radar indicating strong rotation. They said they were afraid it could become a Salt Lake City type event. The presumed funnel was rain rapped and not seen by me. We had flooding. The neighbors and all came out. I even think the black guy a couple houses away said it was our welcome to the neighborhood storm.

On another tornado warning, unknown to me at the time, I was watching low cloud debris just to the south of us from that same house (Oh, a block away). I could see that the clouds were going in a circle with a little bit of bag and leaf debris. It was quite calm otherwise. Many dust devils are more scary than that turned out. But once a storm gets to rotating, things can change awfully fast, so warnings must be issued. The rough terrain around south east Arizona, I believe, tends to disrupt flow in moving storms. But under unique conditions, there can be the exception.

But my next big move to where I am typing; nothing! Yea!

I was out back in the yard last summer when the beginning of monsoon season storm sent a micro-burst roaring down the two hills to the side of us. I was working in the shed when the rumble from nowhere forced me out to see if there was a tornado or something. The wind was ridiculous, certainly over 60mph. Then I watched the shed roof go up in the air and towards me. It slammed onto another new roof I had just put up. I had to tear the whole back area apart and connect metal to cement and metal straps to the roof to prevent another such occurrence. It did not roar exactly like a tornado does at full force, but it had a certain eerie quality that something was up and coming at you.

Anyways. The coincidence seems to be over. But it did remind me of being a kid. I was a butterfly collector who would go running through thistle fields, getting my legs all bloody chasing butterfly’s. But at home, just out in the yard, so often the best butterflies I was looking for just cruised right by.

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