Her message ended abruptly with a click. At once, everyone sitting around me looked out the window and gave a little chuckle. It was a gorgeous spring day, and the sunny stillness seemed like an unlikely threat to our safety.
A murmur of whispers started among the patrons sitting in groups. “I didn’t even know the library had a basement,” one girl said to her friend. “Me either. Can you imagine being stuck down there with a bunch of strangers?”
The excitement lasted only a minute. After everyone had had their say about the unusual announcement, they resumed their work. The study area quickly reestablished its familiar atmosphere of quietness, interrupted only by the occasional cough or sneeze. It was clear that none of us took the warning seriously.
When I reached the end of a chapter, I saved my place and made my way to the circulation desk. I checked out a few books and a movie, and then left the library to head home. It would turn out to be the last ordinary thing I did that day.
I picked up my pace through the parking lot as it started to drizzle. “The storm’s coming after all,” I thought silently as I started the engine. With only a three mile drive back to the apartment, I figured I’d be home before the worst of it. Unbeknownst to me, the worst of this fast-moving storm was literally waiting for me around the corner.
I turned onto Main and was shocked by the divided sky. To the east, I could see what was left of the once-gorgeous day. To the west, an ominous wall of black clouds stretched as far as the eye could see. The approaching thunder caused my radio to blurt out spikes of static noise as I drove along the narrow border of these two different worlds:
The drizzle quickly changed to pouring rain. Stopped at a light, I watched the red traffic signal wave violently in the accelerating wind through my rapidly beating wiper blades. As the strong winds whipped rain around my car, I felt it shake back and forth as though a grown man was jumping on my back bumper.
Suddenly, Ozzy Osbourne’s “Bark at the Moon” was cut short by the worrying tones of the Emergency Alert System. I proceeded through the light, finally green, as the tones ended and the emergency message began:
“…issuing a Tornado Warning until 6:15pm for the following counties… 60 to 70 mile-per-hour winds… repeat… Tornado Warning… advising all residents to seek shelter and remain indoors…”
Still two blocks away from my 3rd-floor apartment, I found myself wishing I was back at the library. I imagined being herded down into the basement by the staff members along with two-hundred other library visitors. Anxious to get indoors, I pressed on at a cautious 25 mph in a 45 zone. I stopped at another light.
The sky was completely dark now, and the formerly distant lightning was now upon me. The black sky lit up every other minute, and the accompanying claps of thunder made the wavering sound of the air raid siren seem soft by comparison.
I stared at the light, consciously praying for it to turn green, when the entire street lost power. For a moment, the only lights I saw were those of other cars. Within a few seconds, the auburn glow of the street lamps returned, but the lenses of the traffic light remained dark.
After some initial confusion, traffic started treating the non-operational signal like a 4-way stop. I proceeded through the intersection cautiously, thinking hopefully about how I was now more than halfway home. I was trying not to think about how the next mile of road was under construction.
Thankfully, the orange barrels had stayed put in spite of the strong winds. I waited my turn as the road merged everyone into a single lane, and found my place behind a long line of illuminated brake lights. The rain, pouring so hard now that my highest wiper speed seemed useless, was quickly flooding the road. Pools of rushing rainwater were splitting around traffic barrels and car tires the way rivers flow around rocks.
I spent the next block slowly inching my car forward whenever traffic allowed. When I finally reached my street, a courteous driver stopped the oncoming traffic to let me turn left in front of him. Once I saw my apartment building, I felt infinitely safer.
I parked my car, tucked my library materials under my arm, and ran for it. Although it was only a ten second sprint to the front door, I was drenched by the downpour. At first, I struggled to pull the door open against the strong winds. The wind then changed directions, causing the door to fly out of my grip and strike the building. I wrestled it closed and flew up the three flights of stairs sopping wet.
Standing outside of my apartment fumbling for keys, I heard a repetitive “Thwack, thwack, THWACK!” coming from the other side of the door. The sound of the venetian blinds being blown around by open windows, no doubt.
Once inside, I dropped everything I was holding and made a beeline for the bathroom. Opened the blinds, closed the window, drew the blinds. Repeated the procedure in the bedroom. Ran down the hallway to repeat the procedure again in the living room. When I opened the blinds there, though, I noticed a group of people from the neighboring apartment building piling into a small car.
With the window still open, I whistled for their attention. They didn’t hear me, so I stuck both pinkies into my mouth and whistled louder. Nobody heard me over the rain, wind, and sirens.
“Stay indoors!” I shouted down at them. “Stay indoors!”
Caught in a group panic and still unable to hear me, they exited the lot and gunned it down the street. I closed the window and tried the TV, half expecting the power to be out. Surprisingly, it turned on.
Every other channel was the same: a blue background with red text indicating a Tornado Warning. The weather channel, however, featured a radar image of the storm. It looked like a thick red wall being dragged across the majority of the mitten. It was at that moment that the power went out…
…and it stayed out for the next five days. Although the storm passed within a few hours, an estimated 200,000 people in Michigan lost power on June 8th from hurricane-like wind damage. After the threat was over, crews worked around the clock to restore power within a reasonable amount of time, saying that 90% of the outages would be fixed by Friday the 13th. Allegedly, there was no actual Tornado Sighting, but the Tornado Warning was issued as a precautionary measure due to the severity of the storm.
In short: Hurray! The power’s back on!
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