Storm Report: Worcester, Massachusetts

Storm damaged on my street.
Storm damage on my street (Instagram).

I have lived in Worcester, Massachusetts since the summer of 2012 and can say one thing: damned if we don’t get all the weather. Blizzards, super storms, (very rarely) heat waves, and last night–a tornado. An EF-0, the smallest, most mild-tempered version of the beast, but still powerful enough to do some damage.

Worcester has been hit hard by twisters in the past. In 1953 a truly epic storm whipped across this part of the Bay State. It left 94 casualties in its wake and did nearly a half-billion dollars worth of damage (adjusted to 2014 dollars). It still stands as the worst tornado in New England history.

Last night’s storm was a joke next to that. In fact, I treated it like a joke when it happened.

The tornado warning hit our phones right around the time I noticed rain slamming against the windows. But I’ve learned, over time, to not take non-winter storm warnings too seriously here (the winter storms are frequently huge and serious). Compared to what I grew up experiencing in the south, the thunderstorms are rarely frightening and in spite of knowing about that disaster in 1953, I rarely fret about tornado watches or warnings.

Just after the warning last night, I went to the bathroom and noticed the wind pulling at the metal flashing surrounding our dryer vent. We’ve had windy storms here, but I’d never had the impression the wind was trying to suck something out of the house before. My wife heard glass breaking (it turned out to be a window in our storage area in the rear of the house), and our cat took off running for a hiding place. The last is not such a big deal, as our cat is a twitchy asshole, even for her species.

And that was all. Then this morning we found out it was the real deal and cut right through our neighborhood moving from the southwest to the northeast, a narrow path about 2 miles long.

Pilgrim St. in Worcester, the Boston NBC affiliate news van.
Pilgrim St. in Worcester, the Boston NBC affiliate news van.

I went for a run this morning just to see what might have happened in our neighborhood. What I discovered was even the most mild heavy weather event imaginable will bring people out to rubberneck and spark conversations between cranky New England neighbors who normally don’t do much more than grunt hello as we scrape ice off our cars. Also on display yet again: the perversity of tornadoes. The August 31, 2014 Worcester Twister’s path wasn’t even a full block wide. It hit individual houses and trees around the houses in a southwest to northeast path, mainly busting windows, ripping up trees, and knocking over a few utility poles before it fizzled out–but even two blocks down on one of the more damaged streets you couldn’t even tell there’d been a storm at all.

That didn’t stop Boston media from turning it into WORCESTER MEGATORNADO DESTRUCTICON 5000 (okay, they weren’t that bad, but the number of news vans surprised me). In the photo above is the WHDH Channel 10 van. As I ran by, threading my way through fallen branches, debris and scampering news photographers, I also noted residents from an undamaged three-decker across the street from the news van sitting in a random assortment of chairs and staring at the news people. I then passed a smartly-dressed blonde reporter speaking to a dark-haired woman who looked a little shell-shocked.

One street over from me, I saw this:

Shredded tree, the Boston CBS affiliate news van ON SCENE.
Shredded tree, the Boston CBS affiliate news van ON SCENE.

I realized as I jogged up the street, down a cross street and onto my own road that my place had come closer to a direct hit than I even knew at the time.

All in all, no disaster. No super-outbreak. My wife’s boss, the headmaster of the private school where she heads the English department, sent an email detailing how the tornado affected school property and it might’ve been been me, but there seemed to be something a little tongue-in-cheek about the tone of his message.

That said, even very minor events like this make you stop and think. I have had to question my responses. Given how obsessed I’ve been with the weather, especially tornadoes, for much of my life, there’s some irony in how I shrugged off the warning last night. It reminded me of the time there was major police action, culminating in a gun battle, up the street–and my wife couldn’t even get her crime writer husband to wake up and see what was going on.

Anyway, we’re on the top floor of our building. Chances are good we’ll never deal with another tornado as long as we live in or around Worcester, but I think I’ll ask my landlord how to get into the building’s cellar anyway. Just in case.

Below, the Worcester Telegram’s map of the tornado’s path.

Map of the 8/31/2014 storm path (Worcester T&G)
Map of the 8/31/2014 storm path (Worcester T&G)

Follow this link to see a rooftop security camera video of the storm: WWLP.

Sudden Arctic temperature drop summons devils from Lake Michigan

Extremely cold weather phenomenon can be quite creepy, and here’s some proof. In a post on Google+, KC Wildmoon explains: “When the dry Arctic air moves over the warmer water, the air humidifies, causing the visible steam. The warmer air rises, drawing the steam, and because a vortex is involved, it can swirl, although quite slowly and often barely visibly. They are not related to waterspouts or tornadoes. The phenomena were first studied on Lake Michigan in the 1970s, when researchers dubbed them ‘steam devils’.” There may be wrath in the wind, chaos and destruction, but there are cold ghosts and turning devils in the ice and snow.

[kc wildmoon]