La Crosse Tornado

Today a tornado touched down in our neighborhood. In the Grand Scheme of Things, it was a relatively minor tornado, but it did some strange things to our neighborhood.

Our situation: We’re OK, and our house is OK. There’s a small corner of our metal roof that’ll have to be nailed back down, and some pieces of our neighbor’s maple tree that need to be picked up, but our “damage” is minor compared to others within a block or two of us.

Read our storm story after the jump, and look at our photo gallery of the aftermath.

As I write, the power has been out at our house since the beginning of the storm. That means no TV and no Internet (we don’t do the cell phone thing). Our landline phone works, but it’s only good for things like telling your mother that you’re OK.

We have a battery/hand-crank radio, but all we can get from it is weather reports,and storm warnings for places east of us. So we have absolutely no reliable source of news, no way of knowing how this storm affected the rest of our city or our region, and no way of knowing whether anybody was hurt. All I can tell you about this storm is what we learned walking around our neighborhood after the sun came out.

The battery on our laptop is good for a few hours, so I write in hopes that I can copy and paste these words into our blog once the lights come back on.

At roughly 4:30 this afternoon, the sky got dark, it started raining hard, and the wind picked up. I looked out the window toward the garden, and I saw garbage cans flying down the alley. Then I heard The Hum… it sounded like wind whistling thru trees, but it had a low pitch, like that of a bass flute or a tuning fork… only it sounded like two or more tuning forks, each with a slightly different pitch. This sound only lasted for a few seconds while the lights flickered. Just as RoZ suggested we might want to unplug our sensitive electronic equipment, everything went dark.

That was almost six hours ago, and it’s still dark.

We grabbed the weather radio, and it told us we were under a tornado warning. (We need to ask the civil defense people why we never hear tornado sirens when a tornado’s been spotted heading our way.) We rounded up candles and other parts of our emergency kit, but by then the peak of the storm (what we later learned was “the tornado”) had passed, even though the wind was still blowing as hard as I’ve ever seen it.

After the rain had let up for a bit, people in the neighborhood went outside to take a look around. We didn’t have to go far before we could see trees down and metal torn from buildings. We got to see our neighbors long enough to reassure each other that we were OK, and then it started raining again. Another wave of storms was passing thru town with a lot of rain and not as much wind.

Sometime around 6 o’clock, the sun came out. Since the power was out, there wasn’t much to do other than take a walk around the neighborhood. Everybody else in the city had the same idea. I’ve never seen this much foot traffic in a residential neighborhood outside of New York. So we got to encounter many of our neighbors and spend time swapping storm stories.

One neighbor, who lives two houses east of us, said he saw a tornado. This is when we learned that we had just experienced a tornado. He said the tornado was on a course northward toward our part of the block when it suddenly turned east and entered the neighborhood a half-block east of his place. He was very pleased with our luck with this storm, and so were we.

Between our corner and the end of the next block we found downed trees, porches torn from their houses, a collapsed garage, bent signposts, and numerous damaged roofs. The major intersection a long block away was closed to traffic from all directions, so lost drivers clogged the streets of our neighborhood looking for a route to replace the one they found unavailable. Unfortunately, these drivers had to navigate streets criss-crossed with uprooted trees.

On one side of the closed major intersection, a cheaply-built apartment building had its roof torn off. The roof blew into a tree across the street, and the wind pushed the tree over. There were all kinds of building materials scattered around, much of it hanging in the treetops: lumber, shingles, metal roofing, foam insulation. The streets were littered with everything from sticks and branches to twisted metal and pieces of buildings.

Cars seemed to be very lucky – at least in our neighborhood. We saw three cars that could have been crushed by trees or a collapsed garage, but they all looked like the trees fell in a way that gave the car a gentle dent rather than any crippling damage.

With so many people walking the streets, the aftermath of the tornado had a strange festive element. We all are in awe at the power of nature and marvel at what the wind can do. And this was one of those times when this was pretty much our only choice of what to do. It was fun to meet all of our neighbors to celebrate our fortune that things could have been worse, but they weren’t.

And as I finish writing at 11:15, the lights are back on. Time to get the Internet working again and send this out.

5 thoughts on “La Crosse Tornado

  1. Pingback: La Crosse Tornado – photo gallery | purplearth blog

  2. Saw your post on the Tribune about the tornado. I agree, the local station really dropped the ball. I’m rather disappointed in Channel 8 especially because there was no excuse for this. There was a cell in Fillmore County dropping tornadoes and that cell was heading for us and therefore SOMEONE should have been at the station watching it! I was going back and forth between and weatherbug online to watch where this storm was going. I was also talking to people on the Dr. Greg Forbes page on Facebook.

    If you don’t know who he is, he is one of the meteorologists for The Weather Channel. He studied under Dr. Fujita (yes, the guy who came up with the Fujita Scale for tornadoes) and has what is called The Tornado Condition Index or TOR:CON. When the sirens went off back in April, the TOR:CON index was 8 (the first called this year). Sunday, the TOR:CON was 6. Six means there’s a moderate chance of a tornado hitting within a 50 mile radius. A moderate chance to me means that the local meteorologists needed to be on call. It also means to stick close to shelter and keep an eye on the weather.

    Unfortunately, people have become very desensitized to severe weather and to tornado sirens on account of all the false warnings and close calls. Essentially, either too much is done or two little. If officials wait to give off a warning until they’re sure, people die. If they don’t, people get complacent, blow off warnings, and die. La Crosse lucked out massively. If the tornado had been an EF-5, if it had hit just a couple of blocks to the north, if it had hit 24 hours later during rush hour traffic, I think we would have seen more serious injuries, possibly even deaths. I sincerely hope that this “warning” we got let people know that La Crosse is NOT immune to tornadoes so that the next time the sirens go off, more people take it seriously and take shelter. One thing for sure, I will not wait for the sirens to go off next time. I was really surprised at how long it took for them to go off once the warning came through (a number of minutes at least).

  3. I really hope you weren’t talking about my families aparts being cheap. there roof did come off but it was a tornado…just please dont be talking about my families places as we did have a very bad devestation at our places.

  4. Hey, did you see this? It’s a clip from the news talking about why the siren wasn’t heard at West Ave and Green Bay St. This article from LAST YEAR also talks about it. What’s interesting is that NOW after that street takes a direct hit from a tornado they want to replace it. Uh, should have done that a LONG time ago. I lived on Green Bay Street on the 1300 block and I don’t recall EVER hearing that siren go off during testing. I practically live on top of one now on the north side and I think one that close I would have recalled hearing but I don’t which means it must have been non-functional 8-9 years ago. What’s sad is that the officials are using this as a warning to people NOT to rely on the sirens or even the weather radios! Uh…what are you SUPPOSED to use if your power goes off?! And what about those who can’t afford cable/internet? What are they supposed to do? Not everyone has a brand new digital TV and laptop or even a cell phone they can get storm warnings off of. My brother doesn’t have any of those things. He lived 8 blocks away from the storm and knew nothing about it until my sister called him to ask him if he was okay.

    Had to add this since I just saw it on the news tonight.

  5. Pingback: Windstorm Closes Bike Trail | purplearth blog

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