The recent onslaught of tornadoes in the Midwest and South has brought back some terrifying memories of such occurrences when I was a teenager living in Iowa. I was supposed to write a tornado trilogy and had promised to do so in an earlier blog, but never got around to it. Here is the first of three stories that actually occurred as I remember it.
Part I: Middle School Windstorm
It was one of those sultry late spring days in May near the end of the school year as I peered out the huge multi-pane glass window facing south on the third floor, farside of the library. Escaping into another of my melancholy daydreams, I just wished for the school day to end and the Study Hall to be over. The humidity and closeness in the air was unbearable. This was the Midwest, prairie land, and there were no such luxuries as air conditioners or fans in our school, which had been built in the early 20th Century. The desks we sat at were the affairs one sees in pictures of one room school houses, wrought iron legs and hard maple seats and tops with years of carved names and mementos by bored middle school kids.
The sky was clear with puffed whisps of clouds skirting overhead and birds floating aimlessly on the currents. But further back on the horizon was an ugly purple blue mass of a cloud and it was sliding forward with unusual momentum, a giant enraged fist. I watched as the cloud came ominously closer. Suddenly, large thumps could be heard against the little panes of glass. The poor birds, who a few minutes ago had been gliding peacefully, were now unwitting projectiles.
The artificial darkness from the cloud engulfed the other students and me as we watched in silent horror while panes of glass exploded from the pressure of the terrific gusts and the rain, shards of glass flying in several directions.
Luckily, we were not close enough to sustain injury from the glass, but the warning bell for the tornado sounded and we were quickly shuttled off to the basement, a horrid, enclosed area which was painted a slick forest green enamel. We stood against the wall as the storm passed overhead and thunder shook the school. Mike Hoskins, better known as "Hoss," picked his nose idly in front of me and then smeared his finger onto the dark green. I was sickened by his actions and the damp air that clung to the walls of the lower level dungeon.
Within a matter of ten minutes, the storm ceased and once again, the sky was tranquil. Only the wet ground and a few lifeless birds next to the building indicated that a funnel cloud had just passed over the area.
It was my first spring in Iowa, my family having moved from the suburbs of Washington, D.C. the previous fall. I walked to the bus that afternoon with a newfound sense of powerlessness in what seemed to me a chaotic and foreign land. This was to be the first of many experiences with sudden and violent storms.