This week we are sharing our personal experiences with natural disasters. Here in the Midwest we experience lots of storms, so I had to think about specific weather events that stood out in my memory.
After our harsh Michigan winters, spring is always welcome, but sometimes along with that warm weather comes some dangerous weather. On April 21, 1967 a tornado ripped through all the Great Lakes states, and directly through Grand Rapids. I remember spending the evening in our basement with my grandmother, my parents, and my brothers. According to articles on the internet, it was a Friday, so I would have been in school that day – I don’t remember being sent home early, so perhaps the warning came later in the day. Our transistor radio was on, and as the evening progressed and the threat of the tornado increased, mom set out our sleeping bag and blankets so that we could get some sleep. The next morning I couldn’t believe how sunny the skies were. It was Saturday, so we played outside. I imagine my parents would have been busy cleaning up debris in the yard. But on our way to church that Sunday we discovered that the South Congregational Church (which was only a half mile from our church) had been sliced in half! Surprisingly, I wasn’t able to locate a picture of the damaged building, but it made such an impression on me about the power of storms. I said my prayers in earnest that day.
Snowstorms are a fact of life in Michigan, and some of those storms are worse than others. I consider myself fortunate to work in a profession that shuts down when the weather gets dangerous for driving. Teaching in a rural district nearly twenty miles from my home, I appreciated not having to drive through blizzards, except when they started while school was in session. There were a few times when the half hour drive home turned into an hour-long ordeal. One day began with the sun shining and no snow on the ground. By the time school let out there was so much snow on the ground I wasn’t able to get my car out of the parking lot! Fortunately, another teacher with an SUV saw me trying to dig my way out and invited me to spend the night at her house. Her husband and son went over later and pulled my car out so I could go home the next day.
Large piles of snow can cause problems when they melt – especially if we get a large rainstorm. In Michigan we are never more than six miles away from a body of water, so flooding is a frequent springtime nuisance. During the spring of 2013 the Grand River overflowed so badly that the news showed ground floor office windows looking into the river rather than over it! I attended a faculty workshop at the university’s downtown campus and my usual lunchtime walk had to be rerouted, since the sidewalk along the Grand River was completely underwater.
But by far the most unusual experience I’ve had with weather was when I visited my relatives in Japan during the summer of 1985. I remember the newscast at lunchtime was full of the word “taifoo” which my mom confirmed meant typhoon. Apparently, the area was preparing for one the following day. It amazed me that no one in the house seemed particularly concerned. My aunt (who is only six months older than me) said she would go to work as usual, and her son would go to daycare. I had concerns, knowing that a typhoon is the eastern hemisphere’s version of a hurricane. And Yokohama is right there on Tokyo Bay. But my uncle assured me we would be all right. As the day progressed, the skies got darker and the air got more humid. Definitely not a good sign. We ate dinner together and went to sleep with the rain pouring. The next morning, bright blue skies greeted us. There was absolutely no sign of any damage or devastation. Had the storm diverted? Had it been a false alarm?
I asked my mom what happened to the typhoon.
“It came last night, just after midnight,” she told me.
“Really? How can that be? I never heard a thing,” I said.
“That’s because it hit the other side of the house.”
I’m still trying to figure out the logic of that answer.