Thursday, May 13, 2010

Happy Tornado Day! Err... that doesn't sound right.

Whether or not that's an appropriate greeting today, it is, in fact, Tornado Day. It's a well-known fact amongst my readers that I lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan, during my Blood Ties days. It's less well-known that before that, Kalamazoo, Michigan was my neighborhood.

Richelle Mead is also a Kalamazoo native. So, if you want to write Urban Fantasy, being born in or near Kalamazoo is a good way to get a start, I guess.

Thirty years ago today (three-months before I was born, just throwing that out there), an F3 tornado ripped through downtown Kalamazoo. According to my favorite meteorologist, Mr. Bill Steffen (who is cool as hell), that means it was going between 158 and 206 m.p.h. Five people were killed by the high winds, falling trees, and the collapse of the rear wall of the Gilmore's department store.

Tornadoes happen all the time, so why is this one such a big deal to us? Well, for one, we have one, maybe two tornadoes a year. Two, you've all seen Twister, right? Tornadoes generally happen in rural areas. Well, here's a Google satellite image of Kalamazoo, including the "downtown" area that the Tornado of 1980 destroyed:

View Larger Map

Thirty years later, anyone old enough to remember the Tornado will eagerly share stories of it. People who were in Gilmore's when it collapsed. I heard a first-hand account from a woman I used to work with who ran across Bronson Park just before the Tornado plowed through it. In high school, my friends and I would go to Mount Home cemetery and drink in huge scar the Tornado left on the grounds.

The Kalamazoo Tornado is legend 'round these parts (hence the capitalization). You can still buy t-shirts proclaiming that you survived the tornado. There's a facebook group where people share their stories. Some buildings (like the part of my son's old school that you see destroyed in the following video) have plaques commemorating the fact they either were erected on the remains of a building destroyed by the Tornado, or that they didn't get destroyed.

So, check out the vid, which is truly, truly spooky.

And another first-hand account, with a slide show of the destruction, is here:

That's all I got today folks. Enjoy your (hopefully) severe weather-free day.

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