Thursday, August 20, 2009

Minnesota Weather

I’ll never forget my first tornado warning. Growing up in Maine, we had the occasional thunderstorm or hurricane, but never a tornado. I had no idea what to expect, and didn’t even realize that tornado sirens existed.

One warm day in May of 2001, I was happily sitting in the grass with my friends, soaking up the sun and enjoying the blue sky. Dinnertime rolled around, and we went into the dining hall. Suddenly there was hail falling, and before I knew it, we were being told to leave our trays on our tables and get down to the basement. The tornado siren went off, and the sky had changed dramatically since we’d been outside, less than an hour before. We weren’t downstairs very long before they released us, and by the time I finished my meal and went back outside, the sky had cleared and the temperature was lovely again.

Now I know that tornadoes can – and often do – appear on an otherwise lovely day. I know that on the first Wednesday of each month, at 1:00pm, every tornado siren in the Twin Cities gets tested. Usually, this means that every once in a while I hear a tornado siren, look at the nearest clock, confirm that it’s 1:00, and realize that another month has passed.

Yesterday was cloudy, raining heavily, and quite cool. It was about 64 degrees around 2:00 when I saw someone on Twitter comment that winds were strong in Minneapolis. By 2:15, a tornado had touched down in downtown Minneapolis, and by 2:30 there was news that a few highways were underwater, an office building had the windows blown out, a music shop was missing a big chunk of roof and wall, and trees and power lines were down in various neighborhoods in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. By 3:00, tornado warnings were sounding in Saint Paul and western Wisconsin.

The tornados and winds materialized so abruptly that there were not any sirens, storm warnings, or tornado watches broadcast until the first tornado hit. Someone reported exiting a building into what they thought was a tranquil and rainy day, seeing a trash can fly past at eye level, and opting to stay inside. The energy company released a statement that at one point in the afternoon, more than 7,000 customers were experiencing power outages.

Driving east on highway 94 at 5:30, I took a few pictures. Even then, the clouds were moving fast and changing shape, size, and color right before my eyes. I’ve included those pictures here – I took all of them within ten minutes, along a stretch of highway about 1/4 mile long.

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