Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It's a Twister! It's a Twister!

Late Thursday afternoon, after my daily session of staring into space and drooling as Kyle napped, some thunderstorm clouds rolled our way.  "Hmph," I thought, "Looks like we might get some rain."  I checked, the never-fail source of inaccurate forecasts, and it said the city was under a flood watch.  I shrugged it off, since a drizzle can trigger a flood watch in New York.  It seemed as if we were about to have your typical September thunderstorm: a little bit of bark, but not much bite.  I shut down the computer just as Kyle woke up from his nap. 

At around 5:30 pm, Kyle and I were at his bedroom window, watching the oncoming storm.  It was one of those classic father-son bonding experiences.  As the little guy stared at the darkening clouds and listened to the thunder, I knelt down beside him and talked about how exciting thunderstorms can be, recalling the days when I was told that thunder was simply "angels bowling."  He seemed confused by the bowling reference, and, in hindsight, I realize I probably should have updated the story for modern-day New York, saying instead that the thunder was an angel driving by with his car's bass up way too loud.  Still, it was a fun experience together, and I seemed to be dissuading any belief he may have that thunderstorms are something to fear.  Little did I know, about ten minutes later, I'd be awfully close to needing my own underwear changed as well.
Suddenly the sky turned a dark green, as the sun checked out early.  I put the lights on in the apartment as I moved Kyle away from his window.  I felt a twinge of nervousness as the skies became even more foreboding.  It no longer felt like we were going to have an ordinary storm.  Then the rain came and removed all doubt.

Water gushed from the sky like a waterfall.  The wind picked up and slammed our open windows, making our blinds flutter inward like white flags of surrender.  I ran around the apartment, quickly closing the windows, and then, with Kyle in one arm, I stood at the entrance to our apartment's small hallway, keeping the windows in view but far enough away.  We waited there as the storm thrashed everything outside.

I did not realize then that a tornado was hitting our street.  We did not see a funnel cloud approach us from the distance, so there was no time to let the horses and chickens out of the barn and run into our underground shelter.  No, this twister seemed to land on us from above.  While the wind did roar, I couldn't say for sure that it sounded like a train, a tornado's definitive sound.  As I looked through our third-floor window, it was hard to see or hear anything clearly, and there was no way to tell if this was the real deal, or just a very intense storm.   I probably should have been suspicious when I saw a woman on a bike flying past us and laughing maniacally, but with the city being overrun by bicyclists these days, that didn't surprise me one bit.

Kyle knew something was up. As I stood there holding him, he remained still, and watching the storm through our windows.  He didn't ask to be let down.  He didn't ask for food.  He didn't bite my arm or slap my face (lovingly).  No, the little guy was absolutely silent.  I don't think he likes the way angels bowl.

And then, it was over.  I figure the whole thing lasted less than ten minutes.  The winds died down, and the deluge became a drizzle.  Shortly afterwards, our neighbors knocked on our door to see if we were okay.  They then asked, wide-eyed, "Did you look outside yet?"

While still holding Kyle at my side, I walked out our building's front door and immediately saw the damage.  The tree directly in front of our apartment remained, but the trees to the left and right of it were gone.  The tree to the left of us had smashed through an SUV, which was parked in a spot where I frequently keep my car, but hadn't that day.  A section of the sidewalk there was ripped apart by the tree's roots.  The tree to the right of us looked like it was cut in half lazily with a chainsaw.  The bottom part of the tree was still firmly in the ground; the top part was lying in the middle of the road.  From end to end, our street was blocked by downed trees and branches.  I was grateful that my car was parked on another street, untouched by the storm.

(Above: Our street after the storm.  To the left is the tree by our place that was cut in half.)

(Above: Nature mistakes a tree on our street for a banana)
Outside of a few water leaks, our place was not damaged by the storm.  Unfortunately, that could not be said for the three buildings adjacent to us.  The top of a massive tree behind those buildings, which may have stood there for more than one hundred years, crashed down on the back of the buildings, blowing out windows and destroying a deck and part of a fence.  Fortunately, nobody was hurt on our street, and that's a miracle in itself.   

Clean-up of the mess was swift.  Chainsaws buzzed at 250 decibels well past midnight, forcing Jennifer and I to get out of bed and move to the sofa bed.  Just seconds after we took all the cushions off the couch, pulled out the bed and put sheets and blankets on it, the noise finally came to an end.  By morning cars were once again driving down our street. 

The crushed SUV became an instant circus, with crowds gathering and gawking throughout the next few days, some posing for pictures in front of it with their kids (I am not kidding).  News crews were there, too, and helicopters circled the skies for an entire day, ruining the concentration of outdoor chess players and crossing guards.  The media could not get enough of our block, as the SUV was the early Christmas gift for television producers, wrapped up in police tape and topped with a big shiny tree.  The image appeared all over the web, on the front page of The New York Times, and in newspapers across the country and around the world.  Everywhere, people were seeing the pictures from our street, spitting out their morning coffee (or tea), and exclaiming,  "NEW YORK was hit by a TORNADO?!?!"

Then they exclaimed even louder, "NEW YORK has TREES?!?!"

I'm still trying to wrap my mind around it.  I spent nearly four years living in the South, but never saw a tornado there.  Who would have guessed that I'd experience my first one in New York City? 

Today the neighborhood is looking a lot better.  Most of the downed trees and branches have been cleared away, and the famed SUV is gone, headed for the Smithsonian.  Kyle now has a new activity, too.  He likes going around the neighborhood, pointing at the remaining tree stubs and saying, "Broken tree!"  To him, the tornado has become a part of everyday life in New York, like riding the subway, driving past the Empire State Building, or selling plasma to pay the rent.  He might come to expect tornadoes every year.  I sure hope not, though. One tornado is enough for me, thank you.  I don't need a trip to Oz.  I already have a munchkin.

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