April 09, 2015

Stormageddon 2015

Around 545pm or so, I was jolted out of a nap by my cellphone's "screamer" alarm.  That particular alarm is set to go off when I get a text message from one of the local TV stations regarding weather Warnings... severe thunderstorm warnings, blizzard warnings, that sort of thing.  This one was for a Thunderstorm, which I was expecting.  The Weather Nabobs had been saying since Tuesday that there was a good chance of nasty storms today, after all.  Part of me wanted to just roll over and go back to sleep... I've been having work-related nightmares recently, so relaxing sleep has been at a premium of late... but then the piercing, warbling sound of the emergency siren located less than a mile away went off.

Oh hell.

The screamer went off a few moments later... tornado warning for the area.  A small storm cell to the southwest had rotation visible in it according to radar, the Nabobs said, and it was due over Pond Central in about 20 minutes.  Then a second tornado warning was issued for an area west-south-west of Pond Central, and that storm cell had visible and confirmed rotation, lowering clouds, and had been all-in-all ugly since Iowa. 

Look, I don't consider myself a particularly brave duck.  I'm not particularly afraid of anything, though I give routers (woodshop, not IT) a wide berth, and mushrooms and I have a bad relationship, but I'm not the sort who will go out looking for "EXTREEEEEEEME XXXXXXXCITEMENT!" or anything like that.  But I'm also not overly concerned about storms, either.  Oh, I'll avoid them when possible, and snowstorms I'll avoid driving in, but all in all, I'm good with weather.  So, I stepped out on the balcony to see what's going on, right?  Chatted with a couple of neighbors, we all jokingly agreed that we were about to die, haw haw haw... and then we all noticed that gosh, that front edge of the cloudline sure looks a little... um... cone-shaped?  Well, whatever, it's past us and heading to the northeast. 

And then, exactly the time the Weather Nabobs said the storm would pass over Pond Central, the rains came.  What started as merely heavy soon escalated to "Malaysian Grand Prix" levels.  The storm clouds disappeared in the combination of failing light and monsoon rain, but moments later the keening bandsaw sound of the emergency siren went off again.

The Weather Nabobs on the television were having problems keeping up with everything.  It suddenly sounded like the storm to the west-south-west had put a for-sure tornado on the ground, while they were also reporting a tornado in the vicinity of the local shopping mall.  The shopping mall that's about a mile or so northeast from Pond Central as the duck flies.  Oh.  Hm.  Guess we were right about that cone shape.  Quickly they turned their attention to the WSW storm, though, as it was headed right for a whole series of little towns, while the one near Pond Central was making its way through farmland and already showed signs of fading away.

The WSW tornado gathered strength and made its way through the vicinity of Rochelle, a town of around 10000 people that's long been a major railway hub and is home to one of Union Pacific's largest intermodal yards.  It then made its way through farmlands and small widespots in the road at about 50mph and leveled at least one restaurant that's known of so far.  The major problem, of course, is that nighttime was falling and power is out.  It may be some time until we know the true extent of this one.

Then, as if those weren't enough, the sirens wailed again.  Another storm cell had reportedly barfed up a third twister near Byron, IL, about ten miles southwest of Duckford, and it was headed right for Pond Central.  It was at this point that yours truly retreated to the hallway that leads to his bathroom, taking with him his cellphone, a portable radio, a battery-operated lamp, and a nice book.  And then I heard something I've never heard before in the 14+ years I've lived here: rapidfire "plonk" sounds coming from my heater.

It took me a second or two to realize that I was hearing hail hitting the exhaust outlets for the heater that are located on the roof.  Oy.  After about 20 minutes or so, and reports of two more tornadoes on radar east-north-east of Duckford, it seemed like things were calming down a bit.  Sure enough, all extant tornado warnings were being cancelled except for one waaaaaaaay to the east of us... technically that was part of the same storm line, but couldn't really be considered part of what hit us.

Remember what I said about not considering myself particularly brave?  I'm not ashamed to say that this might have been as nasty a storm system as I've ever encountered, and that includes this one that hit a TV station while they were broadcasting.  That one was on the far side of the city from me, after all.  At one point during this mess tonight, which only lasted about two hours all told, there were three different tornado warning tracks pointed directly towards Pond Central, and another one just a few miles east.  Now that things have settled down, they seem to be thinking that there were only two on the ground, not five.  Unfortunately, the one that touched down near Rochelle has definitely been confirmed.  There has been damage and injuries, and it may have had a run of close to fifty miles.

One place the beast touched was the tiny town of Fairdail, IL, which the mayor of nearby Kirkland said had been flattened.  ABC7 out of Chicago is reporting that there's been one death there, the first reported for-sure casualty.

The Rockford Fire Department has responded to Fairdale, and the news coming out via twitter isn't promising.  All structures in town are damaged, access is difficult to due to debris.  Just outside Pond Central, I can hear the sound of sirens on the highway that heads from here to Rochelle; with a small jog, it also goes to Fairdale.  It sounds like the sirens are headed back to Duckford... probably ambulances, and that's sobering.  I was really about to say that it seemed like the area dodged a bullet, and I suppose that's true.  After all, 15 miles north was Duckford, a city of close to 200000 people.  Rochelle has 10000.  Fairdale supposedly has 2000.  I say "supposedly" because... well, here's the googlemaps view of the town:

They must be counting nearby farms as well..  Rochelle is off to the left, Kirkland to the right, Duckford off top.  So, yes, we may have dodged a bullet, but Fairdale didn't.  Hopefully we'll have good news once the sun comes up.

Right now, it's rainy and the wind is howling outside as the cold front that caused all this hullabaloo flows through.  Behind it is supposedly clear skies and cool temperatures.  Midwest weather: if you don't like it, wait a few minutes, it'll change.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 09:30 PM | Comments (13) | Add Comment
Post contains 1185 words, total size 8 kb.

1

I'm glad you're OK.

I've been through several hurricanes. I've been through a Richter 8.0 earthquake. I've been through a volcanic eruption. But I've never been through a tornado, and tornadoes scare me a whole lot more than those other things.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at April 09, 2015 10:18 PM (+rSRq)

2 I've been through a Richter 8.0 earthquake.

You were alive in 1949?  Either that, or you've spent more time in Alaska or Mexico than I realized.

Posted by: Wonderduck at April 09, 2015 10:46 PM (jGQR+)

3

Maybe I'm remembering wrong. There was a huge earthquake NE of LA which I felt in San Diego, maybe 12 years ago. That one also rocked Las Vegas. Fortunately the epicenter wasn't near anything significant, so casualties and damage were minimal, but it was impressive nonetheless. I was laying on my couch reading a book, and then the chandeliers and window blinds started swaying back and forth -- as did the building itself.

I thought it was Richter 8, but maybe I'm remembering wrong.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at April 10, 2015 12:30 AM (+rSRq)

4 Either way, "swaying back and forth" is not something that should be high on a building's list of things to do, even if it's meant to in an earthquake.

I experienced a small quake when I visited Seattle lo these many years ago.  The people I was visiting had an apartment with a balcony that looked closely upon a freeway.  I was on the balcony when a truck went by, and the balcony sort of rocked a bit... and then I realized it couldn't be a truck, because it kept going for much longer than the second or two a truck would have taken to pass by. 

Even that tiny thing was enough to creep me the hell out.

Posted by: Wonderduck at April 10, 2015 12:58 AM (jGQR+)

5 Was talking to my folks this evening.

"Hey, Mom, come look at this tornado."
"Dad, that's not... like, a tornado there, right?"
"Naw, it's in northern Illinois somewhere."
"That's not good either!"

Good to know your career as a stationary storm-chaser didn't have a spectacular launch.

Posted by: Avatar at April 10, 2015 04:09 AM (zTHWs)

6 The swaying was quite impressive, especially since it lasted a couple of minutes. The wood frame building didn't suffer any damage that I ever noticed, but if it had been brick it probably would have come down. (That's why brick buildings are prohibited under the local building code.)

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at April 10, 2015 04:27 AM (+rSRq)

7 Oh, wow. Glad nothing truly nasty got too close to you, man. Tornadoes are straight-up horrifying.

Posted by: GreyDuck at April 10, 2015 07:35 AM (AQ0bN)

8 Glad to hear you're ok.  

Posted by: ReallyBored at April 10, 2015 09:33 AM (ulGxe)

9 > Maybe I'm remembering wrong. There was a huge
> earthquake NE of LA which I felt in San Diego,
> maybe 12 years ago. That one also rocked Las Vegas.

Southern California has thankfully not had a truly huge  quake since Fort Tejon (est. 7.9) in 1857 -- if such a thing occurred today anywhere near the coastal cities, never mind in them, it would result in a major disaster.     I don't think there have been any substantial lesser ones in the last eight years or so either.  But I often am startled to be informed that something I remember as if it were yesterday (remembering yesterday, literally, is more problematic!)  and refer to as having been a few or several years ago, actually happened 15-20 years back...

There was a set of substantial (though not 8.0 big) earthquakes, considered to have been related, northeast of Los Angeles from 1992 to 1999, often referred to as   Landers (the biggest of them, which you definitely would have felt in San Diego), Big Bear, and Joshua Tree.    And there was the unrelated Northridge quake, just The Medium One but quite damaging, in 1994. 

Regarding tornadoes, which to me are quite a bit scarier even though the damage is more localized, it's sobering to think of how recent the warning systems and their inputs are.  In the age of pretty ubiquitous NEXRAD coverage in the continental US, we easily forget that  Doppler weather radar is 1980s vintage and useful weather radar at all is postwar stuff.    A lot of TV stations have better private weather radar now than pretty much anyone did in the 1970s. 

Within living memory, a lot of rural America wouldn't have had a way to get warnings had they been available, contributing to the toll of phenomena like the "Tri-State Tornado."    Being a weather-wise old farmer with a storm cellar doesn't necessarily help with one that moves at near 60 mph (or is heavily rain-wrapped or at night).  Today's warning systems are imperfect, and the way the results are delivered are sometimes at too high a level of granularity, but they save lives. 

As for seeing the big picture, any kind of weather satellites at all, never mind the hyperspectral assets  we take for granted now, are roughly  contemporary with my lifetime.    

That link has an interesting aside regarding an anniversary that I'd never thought of (and which admittedly is imprecisely known and defined in the negative):  it is thought that since the mid 60s no tropical cyclone has gone undetected, anywhere on earth.  Contrast that with the circumstances well within the edge of living memory, when entire fleets (as many here know better than myself, it wasn't just Halsey... for that matter, it wasn't Halsey just once) could be pretty much taken by surprise by a hurricane or typhoon.   

So much of what we know about our own planet is based on such recently attained capabilities, and can be just barely enough and just barely in time...

Posted by: Ad absurdum per aspera at April 10, 2015 01:20 PM (4sBqR)

10 I can still remember the day of the Xenia tornado, and was lucky to be home that day instead of in it. I remember the hail and the sky, and the brand new weather radar system saving lives, and the death toll of those who didn't get saved. So believe me, I understand being scared of those things.

Anyone who is not scared of a nearby super-tornado is either really focused on science, or fails to understand the situation. (Or one is Shawnee, but that's a special cultural/religious case.)

We also had storm after storm the last few days. But the worst we got was a momentary power outage, and a very temporary yellow sky that only came from sunset. (Not yellow-green, thank goodness. I'm programmed to freak when that happens.)

Posted by: Suburbanbanshee at April 10, 2015 02:14 PM (ZJVQ5)

11 I grew up around 15 miles from Xenia, and I remember how the silly little emergency drills at school suddenly seemed a lot more important to us. Amusingly, we'd just moved from a house near the toxic landfill to the middle of America's Largest Community Of Brick Homes. Pictures of the Xenia devastation did not reassure the owners of those brick homes...

-j

Posted by: J Greely at April 10, 2015 10:46 PM (ZlYZd)

12 Alright, just to set the record straight: it was the Hector Mine earthquake, and it rated 7.1. Which ain't 8, but it's still a healthy quake.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at April 10, 2015 11:20 PM (+rSRq)

13 If it had been in a populated area, it would have been ugly indeed.  Northridge was a 6.7, for example.

No, a 7.1 is enough, thank you.

Posted by: Wonderduck at April 10, 2015 11:32 PM (jGQR+)

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