Friday, June 25, 2010

The Pennsylvania Tornado That Definitely Was

Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting on a beach chair, baking, letting my kids take a final refreshing dip in the pool before we had to leave.

Just as my kids were diving in, a distant gurgle of thunder was heard. The lifeguards' air horns went off. The pool was cleared.

I looked up at the sky and noticed that it was very suddenly dark.

Already mostly packed up because of my hectic schedule, I put the kids in the car, and as I hopped in, I saw to my left a huge bolt of lightning. It almost looked as though it would hit the cross on a nearby church spire.

We zipped out of the parking lot on our way back home, and then the wind picked up in a crazy way. I could see it forming circles on the road in front of me, whipping leaves into vortices.

My Land Cruiser was weaving, almost pulled off the road by the wind.

Then the machine-gun fire of massive hailstones started.

"Hail!" I shouted to my kids. "Look at that. Ice!"

"Hail?" said my eldest daughter, a jokester. "I thought it was just very aggressive leaves."

The kids cracked themselves up over that for a while, but then the rain started--torrential rain that formed fast-moving rivers in the street.  I had to pull over and put my hazards on. I hoped we would not be hit, but no one else was daring to drive, either.

We finally made it home, after the hail stoppped, to discover loss of power. Trees were down; nearby roofs had been torn off.  Whatever inconvenience I was experiencing could have been worse.

Still, the heat and humidity were palpable in the house. The night was horrible, long and sweaty. My big dogs sighed and panted and followed me around all night. All of us barely slept.

I lost all the food in my refrigerator. I thought about packing up and heading towards New York City, where maybe I could guilt my parents into turning on the A/C (which they hate to do).

I thought to myself: old people die in their hot, hermetically-sealed houses on days and nights like this. Scandinavians such as myself are probably prone to homebound heatstroke, too.

I was mostly upset about the groceries that were rotting in my refrigerator (and, possibly, in the freezer, too). To think of all that money's better not to think about it. Making breakfast was hard. At least we had running water. I served bread and water, like in prison. It was my only option.

No coffeemaker. No stores selling coffee. Everything around me was closed.

What's worse is that I couldn't get any news--I couldn't find out when this hell would stop, where it hadn't hit, or who, precisely, had been worst affected.

I berated myself for being such a pansy. What's a little loss of electricity? It's not that big of a deal--except that it's summer. And hot. And we weren't prepared in any way for this. Still, though, after nearly 24 hours, I got used to it. We packed to flee, but I was adjusting.

It might have been even peaceful were it not for the beastly rumbling of all my neighbors' generators (horrid noisemakers, those), or the guy down the street who ran his leafblower for six straight hours (he constantly uses that leafblower, several times a day, for long stretches)...until I regretfully had to call the cops on him for noise violations. I simply could not take it anymore.

Hey, I'm a writer. I write at home. I can't think with the cacophony of leafblowers all around me. I hate leaf blowers, and honestly, I am just about to start a crusade to try to make them illegal.

Anyway--the power came back on. I noticed the lights on in the kitchen as I headed outside, prepared to hang up my wet laundry on the deck, which is something I should do anyway, instead of using the dryer.

Maybe this experience, as much as I did not enjoy it, was somehow good for me. It reminded me, first of all, of what I take for granted. It reminded me to be better prepared. It reminded me to be flexible, which is a lesson I constantly seem to need. It also reminded me to try to be a little more easygoing and a lot more green.


  1. Wow! Sounds scary. Glad you and your kids are alright, but yes, we never realize how much we're dependent on electricity until we don't have it.

  2. Yeah, it was just weird because it came out of nowhere. But I suppose weather usually does...and I have been out of it, not watching any news and had no idea.

    Losing electricity really sucks when you have an electric stove/oven.

    Anyway--probably this post is pretty boring, but it was on my mind and at the very least, I am now going to stock up on flashlights and milk in cartons (you know, what they use in France...UHT milk).

    I just saw your site and realized we are not that far away and doubtless we should meet up sometime!



  3. That was a wicked storm a few days back--my girlfriend in Malvern lost electricity for almost 2 days and also lost the contents of her fridge.

    My husband (a police officer in the area) had several rough days as the township worked to unblock roads due to downed trees, etc.

    We live in Bucks County and, by some stroke of luck, have missed these storms, which (this season) always seem to dissipate RIGHT before they hit us.

    I'm nervous right now because the weather people have been predicting violent storms today, too, and I have an appointment in Flourtown in the afternoon: prime stormy time! Eek!

    Glad to hear you and your family are safe.

    Take care,


  4. I just heard about people in Chester County (I think) who are *still* without power.

    You are lucky to have missed this storm. It was short but left a very nasty, lingering effect.

    I was driving today during the expected storm hours and hit nothing, which was nice.

    Thanks for writing!

  5. yeah, i live in chester county and our entire neighborhood was without power for five days. really ripped through here (glenmoore). luckily i invested in a generator two years ago. when we lose power, we also have no running water. not good. some neighbors were happy to be able to shower at our house. not really fun for anyone. a few houses had some damage (some major). we lucked out, as did our two large dogs.