Not A Tomato.

17 Jul

When I was very small I thought that the violent storms I heard about were “tomatoes”. I had visions of small towns on large prairies being pummeled by tomatoes.

Until I was in one. A small one, but a tornado none-the-less.

We were fine. It was a very close call as we were trapped in my mom’s rockin’ coppery Camaro in the Late 70’s in the burbs known as Westchester…

But I’ve been fascinated by tornadoes since. Pretty much I’m fascinated by “sudden” weather. Big stuff like hurricanes elicit a transition of modes – I go into autopilot. With sudden, severe weather there is no time to transition into a mode of vigilance and preparation spread out over days (which is how it is here in SW Florida during “the season”)

I am vigilant about keeping my eye on the sky and my ears open though as we do have almost daily storms where the sky looks like something out of Ghostbusters II. It’s also that much more dramatic as we have a complete lack of hills here and you can see for miles. (side note: I really want to move back to a place that’s on the curvier side, I feel too exposed here… but we are stuck for who knows how long as my mom being a little more off than usual these days and the baldguy is just settling into his new job.)

Late yesterday afternoon (5:30ish) I unplugged my computer so it wouldn’t fry. I went into the kitchen and poured a giant vat of tea so I could get to work while Lexo was napping. I looked up from my mug and saw smoke and dirt barreling towards our complex from the woodlands. My eyes followed the dark dust up to where it connected with the ceiling of the mother of all storm clouds. I grabbed Lexo from his room, put him under my arm and ran. I had my keys in the other hand, slammed the door behind us, but didn’t lock it. My brain was saying “run. it’s far enough away that you can get to the garage.” My legs, my brain, just knew that running outside for a moment when it was still relatively safe would be better than being on the 3rd floor, right under the roof, when it sliced through our home.

I flew down 3 stories. Lex looked puzzled. I normally don’t pick him up for any length of time as my bones are older than the 31 years they are supposed to be. I fumbled with the keys and opened the deadbolt to go into the garage and I stopped. I listened. There was a strangeness about the air, the light, the sounds. It was windy in the courtyard and I could feel a breeze but nothing right on top of us.

I ran further with Alex to the parking lot thinking I’d lost my last marble. Our neighbor John was loading his truck and I said to him “tornado or fire or what?” and he looked at me like I had 10 heads. He looked at the back part of the complex, toward the woods, but didn’t say anything. I heard a car behind us. It was the baldguy. He opened his window- I pointed “what the hell is that?” and then I saw it move. I saw the charcoal billows rolling to us. I hopped in the car, Alex on my lap.


“Don’t you want to put him in his car seat?”


We pulled over 1/2 a mile away and buckled Alex in. I watched the funnel. I could see where it hit the cloud and where it was dicing the ground. It looked like a cuisinart eating the air and the ground.

We drove toward my mom’s house.

Everyone in the other cars looked calm and unaware.

I searched the radio. FM. AM. Nothing.

I turned to look at the sky and there was a definite disconnect between the sky and the smoke on the ground. Slowly we circled around the area and watched as the dark grey smoke became a ball on the ground with smoke drifting off. It was a complete shapeshift. A complete mood switch.

Alex voiced fairly deep concern for the location of his shoes and pants. I grabbed him and that’s all.

We came back home. Still nothing on the radio or TV.

I cried for a bit and snuggled with Alex.

After we got him clothed and settled with some milk and a prized matchbox car I called my mother.

She said “it isn’t even thundering out” (I think she’s losing her mind and her hearing these days…It happened to my Opa – her stepfather- in reverse. He went from cantankerous to sweet, Mom is going from friendly to vicious, nasty.)

I explained it all to her and she made me describe it. She insists that there wasn’t a weather advisory so nothing could happen. There was an advisory. I saw it on Weather Underground moments before shutting the system down. Something big happened less than 1/4 mile from our home.

The violent appendage turned into a ball of smoke and fire and into what we are used to seeing from brush fires and the occasional, distant, house fire I have seen in my life.

I finally sank back into the pillows to relax to Scrubs reruns rather than do any work. Way too drained for hammering. Still to shaky to trust myself with my torch.
Alex joined me under the covers and completely lost his shit. Not because of the incident earlier- or any of the feelings of fearing for your life and the accompanying adrenaline rush.

He wanted pants and shoes. Today he is still asking for “Pants! Shoes!” even though we are staying right here for the time being and I’m dreaming of the northeast more than ever.

note: There is nothing on the newswire today. Not a mention in the local paper. The baldguy and my neighbor saw it as well so I know I’m not completely batshit. Today I’m still not even thinking “oh maybe I overreacted”. I did what my gut told me to do when my kid was being threatened. That’s all.

Big hugs all around,


3 Responses to “Not A Tomato.”

  1. beclever July 17, 2007 at 6:32 pm #

    Ok- I’m definitely not bananas. Well, at least not in regards to this…
    One of my neighbors has a similar view as I do but is actually closer to the woody area. She thought the same thing.
    I found a 24 hour webcam that is positioned approx .5-1cm (my guess knowing my camera) to the left of where it’s field would have picked up on what we saw….

  2. catbishop July 25, 2007 at 10:13 am #

    I grew up in New Orleans and am also completely intrigued with dangerous weather. My Dad was all over hurricanes, tracking everyone on the little printed grids in the newspaper and he looked at the sky more than anyone I ever knew. We never evacuated, we boarded up the windows and got ready and it was almost a celebratory event. During hurricane Camille he walked all 5 kids hand in hand out into it so we could feel the power of the storm. He’s gone now but a good thunderstorm always makes me feel the power of him…

  3. beclever July 26, 2007 at 12:06 am #

    What a beautiful memory and a wonderful way to still feel connected to your Dad. Wow.

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