my first tornado warning!

Image: National Geographic

Southeastern Connecticut doesn’t usually have many exciting weather events and I’ve pondered whether I should bother to write about the wild thunderstorm we had Thursday morning. Maybe it has just taken me this long for me to gather my wits about me again.

I was at the computer, perhaps playing Scrabble, enjoying the start of a day all to myself. Heard some rumbling of thunder and didn’t think much of it, except that it rarely thunders in the morning here and it seems to be happening a bit lately. Then a blue jay started calling at my window, very insistently. I finally got up to see what all the fuss was about. When I came to the window it flew off the balcony to a nearby tree, now quiet, but staring at me. The storm was coming on fast and I didn’t like the feel of it. Then suddenly it was right overhead – it felt like someone was dropping boulder after boulder on the roof and the house was shaking. The lightning was striking fast and furious, crackling and sizzling like it was ripping the air to shreds.

About 8:45 I turned on the TV just as the station was interrupting programming and two meteorologists appeared with their dazzling technology. They pointed right to our town where the darkest red indicator was right overhead. They zoomed in – there was our street right under the reddest red. There was a tornado warning, too, and Dr. Mel informed us that this was the first early morning tornado warning ever issued in the history of southeastern Connecticut. Then he advised us to turn the TV up really loud and go down to the basement.

I didn’t do it. I froze in fear. It makes me wonder about my ability to respond appropriately in an emergency. When I spoke to my sister about it she said instinct probably was making me play dead like a terrified bunny.

There were multiple reports of a funnel cloud over the river, but later in the day authorities determined it was smoke coming from an industrial stack. Then the civil defense sirens started wailing from 9:02 to 9:05. (By now I was taking notes…) I kept expecting some sort of announcement from the loudspeakers but there was no message. A warning with no instructions – very puzzling. I kept watching the TV as the storm moved to the east, until it left our area and regular programming resumed.

A news report quoted one woman saying, “I scooped up my 3-year-old out of a dead sleep, grabbed him and ran into the bathroom. I heard the sirens go off, which seemed like forever.” Maybe if I had a child to protect I would have been less paralyzed, maternal instinct might have kicked in.

After it was gone the experience seemed surreal, as if I had dreamed it. But Nate called to see how I was, since Tim was away visiting his brother in England, so I guess it did happen. He saw 4 or 5 lightning strikes right outside his window at work. I never looked out the window, probably a wise move. It was the worst thunderstorm I have ever experienced! Although it probably wouldn’t have seemed that bad to someone who lives in Kansas… The storm did leave behind downed trees and wires, and flooded streets. Several homes were hit with lightning and there were power outages.

The blue jay came back to sit on the balcony again, apparently no worse for wear. But it was trying out some different sounding calls. Wish I could have understood its version of the disturbance!

The following is from the town webpage:

Shortly before 9am on August 5th, the National Weather Service issued a Tornado Warning for New London County and targeted Groton and our immediate shoreline being at highest risk. The Town’s emergency sirens, located throughout town, were activated in response to this immediate threat to life and property.

This event was the first time the emergency sirens were activated for a tornado warning and this tornado warning was the first issued for our area in recent memory. Due to the extreme weather patterns we have experienced over the past year or so, the chance of more storms of this type cannot be discounted.

34 thoughts on “my first tornado warning!”

  1. Oh Barbara, you were blessed by that bluejay. Isn’t it awesome to sense how connected you are to other living things who come to support you — both with a warning and an assurance at the end! You CAN understand him, just tune in, intend, and trust what comes into your head!!!! Perhaps he was saying that despite the intensity and destruction and potential harm, Nature as a whole is in harmony…… Just guessing…….

    Glad you are safe!

    1. Thanks, OM! It is an awesome connection, and a timely warning, as you say. I was wondering if the blue jay might have a deeper message for me – at the time I felt like it was reminding me that I wasn’t truly alone, but connected to the web of life. Interestingly, one of my books says that the blue jay indicates that a time of greater resourcefulness and adaptability is about to unfold. A most welcome prospect! The blue jay is also fearless and helps us connect with the deepest mysteries of the earth and spirit. What you say is true, Nature is in harmony, and seeking balance. Thank you for stopping by! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. How terrifying! I’ve no idea how I’d respond to that sort of thing. In emergencies to do with other people I’m usually fine, I go into some sort of survival mode, but not having a cellar here and not knowing how to cope with something like a tornado (not that it’s very likely that we’d get a bad one here, though there have been some around the UK from time to time), I’ve no idea what I’d do.

    The thing with the Blue Jay – it might have been the same thing that happened with Hasslebob (a European Robin we were friends with) when she took food she’d been feeding her youngsters to my husband Bruce and offered it to him. Some of our wild birds here are appalled that we (seemingly) don’t eat. Maybe the Blue Jay was anxious that another living creature within its sight (you) wasn’t taking note of the early warning signs of the oncoming weather and trying to alert you.

    1. Hi, Val, I just noticed that you changed the name of your blog! ๐Ÿ™‚ I like the new name! (And your writing is/was NOT platitudinous, so away with that description!)

      I know what you mean about survival mode, when my son came home from school with an eye full of dirt (and a scratched cornea) and when my husband had his heart attack, everything seemed to go in slow motion and I calmly did what needed to be done. Freaked out AFTER they were delivered to the hospital.

      Hasslebob was probably reciprocating the hospitality you and Bruce showed her when she was little. ๐Ÿ™‚ As a mother she realized how much work feeding her babies was and wanted to thank Bruce for his earlier gifts of food. Or something like that! ๐Ÿ™‚

      The Blue Jay definitely alerted me! My late mom’s nickname was BJ. Yesterday my sister said, “BJ, Blue Jay, it was your mother looking out for you, you know.” Maybe so…

      Hope you don’t mind, I’m fixing the typo for you…

      1. Thanks for correcting the typo!
        I posted about the name change some posts back, I think. Took me a while to track down all the mentions of Duck Billed Platitudes in my other posts and pages and change them too!

        I used to get ‘messages’ from my mum after she passed, too. Mostly the appearance of butterflies in strange circumstances.

  3. Barbara,
    Several times in the past I have not been home and one of the children have had an accident and you took appropriate action. I am confident that had you had a young child you would have sprung into action and followed the directions given from Dr. Mel.
    Love you ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Thank you, Paul. My parents also taught us that we’re safe inside (or in a car) during thunderstorms, and I taught my children that, too. I’ve always enjoyed the excitement and energy of storms! But this was a horse of a different color… My son Nate, who was at work nearby, said that outside the windows it looked like they were in a car going through a car wash. It was over so fast it still seems like it was a dream to me…

  4. I just saw this on yr twitter status, Barbara, and asked what happened — now i know. Really close call ‘coz tornadoes are what cause a lot of havoc during hurricanes as well [at least, here in Miami] and I’ve seen what they can do.
    And that blue jay. I recently read in animal speak that the word ‘jay’ has the same root as ‘gaia’. Isn’t THAT something!

    1. That IS something else, Meenakshi! I like “Animal Speak,” too. The fearless blue jay was fearless in my stead, that’s for sure. Sorry, I didn’t mean to ignore you on Twitter, I never saw your tweet, it must have been lost in the shuffle. I don’t check Twitter that often – it’s so overwhelming how often people tweet… I’ve seen two waterspouts in my life, one over the Florida Keys, and one near the Cape Cod Canal. Never a tornado, though…

  5. This reminds me of my experience of an “earthquake” in Central New York this past June. I was at work (in a college library) and none of us felt it, but everyone freaked out for a good half hour. Our area appeared in a big red zone on whatever geological map we were looking at at the time and people from other buildings on campus were calling us to see if we were okay or if we had felt anything. It kind of put things into perspective for me of how blessed we are in the Northeast to not have to live in constant fear of natural disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. like people in other parts of the country do.

    1. I agree, Liz, we live a very sheltered life, weather-wise, here in the Northeast. I can’t imagine living in a place where tornado warnings are commonplace. By the shore here we do keep an eye on the progress of Atlantic hurricanes, if one gets here as a category 3 or above we’re supposed to evacuate. So far I’ve only been in two category 2s, Gloria in 1985 and Bob in 1991. More than enough excitement for this chicken!

      I didn’t feel that earthquake in June either, although my family in northern Connecticut did! I’m glad you were all safe there in New York. Mother Earth keeps us on our toes…

  6. You are right, Barbara, I did miss this post. WOW! What an experience you had. Your blue jay came to talk to you…maybe it was saying (sublimally) “do not worry. You do not have to go to the basement. Trust yourself.” Wondering how much you froze versus how much you followed deep inner knowing.

    Years ago a tornado came to our cottage–they saw it coming across the lake–and everyone dove under the table. Except for my mom. And she was right at the window, mesmerized, refusing to be stuffed under the table. I think my dad may have dragged her there. (hmmm, will have to verify this story.) Glad you were all safe.

    1. Thanks, Kathy, thatโ€™s a nice thought, following deep inner knowing. Maybe the awe I felt from the blue jayโ€™s presence and message kept me on a more even keel than I understood at the time. And here I thought I was behaving like a deer in the headlights!

      Is where you were/are in Michigan considered part of Tornado Alley? I can relate to your momโ€™s reaction to the approaching tornado! I wonder if being under a table would have made any real difference in safety? Bathrooms and basements donโ€™t strike me as particularly safe places, either.

      1. We’re not in tornado alley here in the Upper Peninsula. It’s fairly rare to have a tornado up here, but it happens. But downstate (500 miles south) where I grew up in the Thumb is another story. We had to go downstairs to our “outside entrance” at least a few times a summer when the tornado warning blew.

  7. Barbara, I decided to read your blog before I sat down to write – running late already, so I may as well be a bit later! Your story was so vivid you had me standing right beside you the whole time. I love the way you described the thunder dropping boulders and lightening ripping the air to shreds.

    That brings back so many childhood memories of Cheshire, CT in the 1950’s when we had a couple of doozer storms. Waterbury, I believe, got the twister. I remember Dad taking us kids in the car the day after to see the damage. One side of the street was fine; the other looked like a vacumn had scooped it up, mixed it about and dumped it all back down again. The image of a tree trunk about 18″ in diameter sticks in my mind too. The top of the tree was gone and the remaining trunk stood, about 5′ tall, twisted like a spiral candle. I wondered if that was why my mother called them hurricane candles.

    Your blue jay reminded me of a raven on Vancouver Island many years ago, who flew to my open door, interrupted my work and insisted that I follow him to the center of our property – a few acres of rainforest – behind the house. He brought me to a circle of cedars, so old, that they must have towered 250′ or more. At the foot of these giants, in the center of the circle, two perfect eagle tail feathers lay on the ground beside a sort of mushroom called Indian Pipe, that was shining, white, and sort of spooky looking. I was so excited – my Dad was ill at the time, and he always said that when he died, he would come back as an eagle. I sent him the feathers for healing energy, and he loved them. Every time I needed to be alone after that and to get away from the stress of running a business from home, I went to that special place, a place I never would have found without raven hopping and crawking a few feet in front of me – and that when I reached the center of the circle, he flew off, leaving me inside my own rainforest chapel.
    We are all connected – your writing reminds me of this, and I believe that is one reason I enjoy it so much. Thank you for sharing your wonderful hurricane story!

    1. Cindy, Thanks so much for your kind comments about my writing! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve been learning that Connecticut has had some tornadoes touch down once in great while, but never where I’ve happened to be! The selective damage you describe following a tornado is amazing. Seems so random, without rhyme or reason, which makes it all the more disquieting.

      Your raven encounter is awe-inspiring… The raven was very determined to give you that gift of spirit. We have Indian pipes in the woods here, too. They’re also called corpse plants or ghost plants, they can be spooky looking, like visitors from another world! Nature is full of wondrous things to discover and connect. When I was little I had a hemlock tree I climbed to soak up some solitude and healing energy – trying to come up with a blog post about that. (I’m even thinking of trying to climb it again!) I love your writing, too!

  8. Thank you for giving me the link to this story. It gave me goosebumps when I read it. Wow! And to make sure you got the message, your mom chose to come as a blue jay … Wow!

    I wasn’t sure whether to share my “meaningful coincidence” stories but I’m so glad I did because now I know I’m not alone in accepting the messages.

    1. Rosie! How did I never get around to responding to your comment? Things have sure changed in the last few years – I miss your blog posts. I wonder if you’re still working at the museum and collecting stories about people’s questions and if you still find meaningful coincidences in your life. Though it is good to keep up with the pictures you post on Facebook of your hikes in the mountains!

  9. I hope that blue jay is still around, and if not, that he/she flew up my way in MA. I love listening to bird calls, and deciphering what they’re saying/singing. They’re better than the meteorologists, any day!

    1. We have so many blue jays around here, Pam, and I’m not a careful enough observer to tell one from another. But since they live about seven years it is possible this blue jay is still hanging around. It’s the first thing I notice when I wake up in the morning, the sound and the mood of the birds calling…

  10. Barbara – I am finally making it back here to read the link, after a stormy week here in SE Michigan which had me shutting down early two nights after barely making it through Comments and not visiting Reader. The heat here is exhausting me as is the series of storms … we have a stormy day on tape here today with multiple storms, gusty winds and not as hot, but still hot enough. The heat index the last two days (100 and 101 respectively) has me wishing Fall will get here. I had not read this link when I originally commented about your blue jay friend sharing the experience with you. Blue jays are one of the most-intelligent birds and are Corvids (part of the Corvidae) family which includes crows and ravens, all exceptionally smart birds. I had no doubt that your recent jay and this one both were sharing the experience with you … I worry for tornadoes and derechos. We had a derecho here in SE Michigan – very scary. We had a row of trees that had been planted in the medium of a stretch of road about three miles long. They were not newly planted trees, but the wind mowed the trees down. My father was planning to mow the lawn that night and it was longish – the winds were so high they left the grass looking like a comb ran through the blades. I was working in a high-rise building and the senior partner was out of the office on his annual sailboat trip around the Great Lakes. His corner office had a lot of glass windows and had been newly carpeted in his absence. The wind shattered two of the window panes and wind swept everything off his desk and sadly, he was a world traveler who collected mementos which were displayed in an open glass case … all these items were similarly swept out the window. The carpeting and furniture on that side of the office was soaked. I sat in the hallway near his office – we heard the glass and ran to see what happened. My mom described the sky as “green” and people in this part of SE Michigan (Downriver, as down the river from Detroit) described it as “the green storm”. I will send you a link separately in case it goes to SPAM. I am very afraid of storms since that one … we have been “ripe” for tornadoes several times this Summer and most likely later today. I am already on edge. My weather alarm has yelped so much this Summer that it would have worn out its batteries if it operated solely on batteries – they are only a backup.

    1. Oh my goodness, Linda! What a terribly frightening experience! Thank goodness the senior partner was out of his office when that derecho came through. Your weather out there is much wilder and far more extreme than ours! It’s no wonder you’re so worried and on edge. I have heard of derechos before, and apparently we’ve had them in Connecticut, but I’ve never experienced one. There are no high-rise buildings around here. Being in one scares me so I cannot imagine working in one on a fair weather day, let alone during a derecho…

      1. I had never heard of a derecho until that fateful day – I never was afraid of the weather back then. I just rolled with the punches and tornadoes were a rarity – no more. We did tornado drills in schools but after this derecho and seeing the aftermath, I really worried and being home all the time (working from home since 2011) makes me reluctant to venture out in this constantly worrisome weather. This morning, three of the four weather folks I follow said severe storms after 10:00 a.m. My favorite weatherman is not “on duty” this morning … I’m not going out therefore and will use my time before work to catch up in Reader. This link you gave me … wow, I thought derechos were just in the Midwest, just like tornados. I learn so much from blogging, whether it is national or international. We have storms this weekend, including today thanks to the heat spikes as mentioned earlier. I am so grateful for the weather radio and keeping me apprised of the weather in addition to the other places I follow. This Summer has aged me – no kidding.

    1. Wow! How utterly terrifying! The damage is so hard to imagine, just incredible. It’s riveting reading the accounts of the people who experienced it first hand.

      1. Yes … I thought this little Downriver history site gives much more insight into what happened. I’ll never forget that sky … my mother told me when I got home she thought she was “a goner” based on the sky and the wind and debris drifting around the window. I see people on weather sites say “bring it on – I love storms” and that just makes me shake my head. May we, or our loved ones, not experience this type of severe weather.

        1. Sounds like one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, that green sky and derecho wind. Kind of like the 1938 hurricane was for my father. No weather event that came after it ever impressed him like that storm did, not even close. People should be careful what they wish for!

          1. I agree – now New Orleans is poised for a hurricane on the anniversary of Katrina … I hope it does not devastate like its predecessor. Mother Nature has been on a tear of late.

          2. I can’t even begin to imagine what a category 4 hurricane will be like for those poor people…

  11. I have been in a few terrifying situations with wildfires at my home, in California. And one thing I have learned is to trust my instincts. I love this story, Barbara, for the blue jay’s visit and your instincts. And it’s well written too. We get through these events, hopefully, with the help of our instincts, our friends and neighbors and officials, and also the help of our guides around us. What a storm! Thanks for the story.

    1. Thank you, Jet. You know, I vividly remember my father teaching me how to cross the street. He told me to trust my instincts, no matter what anyone else said, to cross when I determined it was safe. The lesson has stuck with me for the most part even when an emergency comes so suddenly and unexpectedly. I can only imagine the terror of an approaching wildfire! I’m so glad you were able to trust your instincts and escape safely.

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