What odd weather we’ve been having! First it was really warm, and then, suddenly a big wind blew in a bigger snowstorm and icy air, and then, it rained; all the snow went the way of all things...
Here it is, May 11, and we are greeted by freezing weather again, after days of delightful warmth. It’s 26 degrees in Grayling! Anyone who planted annuals recently will be upset: they don’t survive this sort of shocking change. Just before this sudden turnaround, a huge wind had taken down power lines, branches, and even trees, here in TC, and in southern Michigan. The power was out for a good while in Saginaw; school was canceled.
Even the birds, who wake us every day with cheery chirps, were dead quiet this morning, too busy trying to keep their eggs from turning into lumps of ice to sing, or defend their territory.
I remember other years of weird weather, too.
Saginaw, March 10, 2012, 2:30 a.m. Joe and I were asleep in our small 1870s brick farmhouse where we’d raised our two children, and where he still maintains his cardiology practice three days a week. Because he was covering Covenant Hospital that weekend I’d driven down to Saginaw to be with him.
‘Wah! Wah! Wah!’ Our alarm shrieked, rudely signaling its switch to battery power. We shot out of bed and into a pitch-black world. Looking out our bedroom window we realized everyone in our area had lost electricity.
Uh-oh. Could another storm be approaching? A dangerous one had hit the Tri-City area at dinnertime. The Weather Channel had confirmed a tornado in the northern part of Saginaw, exactly where we lived. Massive lightning had continuously ripped the black sky: a 30-second mega-wind had followed. Then – nothing. The main storm had roared by not two miles east of us. At bedtime the weather was calm.
Sleep was impossible, so we dressed and drove into town for coffee and light, and recalled another terrifying Saginaw weather event 32 years earlier.
August, 1986. The afternoon sky, dressed in shades of sickly yellow smeared with green and black, looked decidedly ill. An eerie quiet blanketed the three acres of wooded land surrounding our home. Birds and insects were mute.
Nervously we gathered our two young daughters and went inside. Ten-year-old Jen watched the sky upstairs while my husband monitored the TV. Five-year-old Lisa soothed our skittish puppy in the kitchen.
Suddenly- a huge WIND screamed in. Large trees moaned under the assault. Windows rattled. County sirens wailed. Joe ran out, looked up and his face registered shock. Dashing inside he yelled, “Basement! NOW!”
We snatched up the children, grabbed the pup and rushed down there.
Seconds later there were tremendous BOOMS!! Then, loud CRREEAKS! Large trees were splitting, groaning, and falling. One truly deafening CRACK!! Lightning had struck the huge elm near the living room. (The pungent stink of roasted sap would linger for days.) Then, THUMP! THUMP! Over and over. Trees and chimney bricks were falling, flying off… going… gone. The wind raged and howled for another age---
An eternity later, it was over. Calm reigned. Only persistent rain remained.
Our house had survived. But our vast, treed lawn had completely disappeared under a carpet of huge, flattened trees. What an incredible sight! Nobody said anything. We simply stared, blown away. Sixty- three downed trees tidily faced east, showing what tremendous straight-line winds can do. Rain and dime-sized hail still pummeled shocked leaves. Weirdly, two giants elms very close to our home had toppled mere inches from it. Parallel to it. But, incredibly, not on top of it.
Some mortar-weak, heavy chimney bricks had been ‘shuck-plucked’ gone, like random kernels of corn pried off a cob.
I wish I had a nickel for every gawker who drove by for the next three weeks. We’d be rich. It took five full days for a crew of ten men armed with chainsaws and tree-eating machines to clean up. Other people lost entire roofs: cars and sheds were overturned or crushed. We’d experienced an EF-1 tornado.
Just two years later, in September, it began to rain. Hard. Steadily. It stopped 32 days later. Much of the Saginaw valley area within a couple of miles of the Saginaw River was under water. Frantic sandbagging commenced half way through the deluge as everyone tried to help the residents save their homes nearer the river. Our efforts didn’t help much. Our home was completely surrounded by foot-deep water. Buck, our Golden Retriever, jumped into it from the front porch and swam to the road 150 feet away. I will never forget that amazing sight.
It took a week for the river to retreat. Lots of people lost everything. Our basement had just been redone to create better drainage; we had only an inch down there.
In 1953, when I was in elementary school, a twister dropped briefly into Saginaw and inhaled our apple tree along with various dish-y clutter from our dining room table, which it also tried to suck through the partially open window. Then that EF-5 monster roared south to flatten Flint, where 113 people were killed.
Ten years ago, here at Sunnybank House in Traverse City, I hastily herded six garden visitors into the kitchen one biliously dark afternoon. Everyone watched a funnel cloud form as it moved west to east- but not touch down- just south of us. It was unnervingly close!
So, during this weird, hot-and-cold spring I’ve begun monitoring the weather at bedtime, just to make sure we are up-to-date on forecasts.
I’ve seen, first hand, how quickly people can be snowed in, or their homes drowned in waay-above-flood-stage river water, or how everything can be blown away in mere minutes.
Michigan weather: if you don’t like it, wait fifteen minutes.