My First Tornado

I was driving to the ICE detention facility in Aurora today when looking off to the left, I saw what I assumed was a fire. I considered for a brief second it could be a tornado, but it wasn't raining and it didn't seem to be twirling, it just looked like dirty smoke. So I kept going.

Within a minute there was lightening. Then I could hear a little bit of hail fall on the roof of my car, then a siren went off in my car (my cell phone was plugged into the stereo, and the siren was as loud as the radio when the volume is turned up really high. I didn't even have the radio on, let alone set at high volume.) It was an emergency alert -- which I hadn't signed up for but appreciated -- telling me to get out the area, a tornado had been spotted "in rotation" on radar. I had no idea what "in rotation" meant, but I understood I should get out of the area.

Within seconds, I was in the midst of a torrential downpour and the streets were flooded. By now I was only about 5 blocks from the jail, but the jail was in the direction of the brown blob of smoke I had seen, which was not a fire, but a tornado that had touched down. [More...]

So what to do? There was no safe place to wait it out, and I didn't want my car sitting outside the jail in a tornado zone where it might get destroyed. Also, this particular jail only has street parking because the lot in front is reserved for employees. So it would be a long run from the street -- over a walking bridge and past the parking lot -- to the front door, during which my files would get wet and I'd look like a mess.

I decided to turn around and go back to Denver. The rain didn't let up and my Jeep sloshed through the water. There was almost zero visibility. And then, in an instant, there was no rain. It didn't taper off, there just wasn't any... the streets were dry. Nothing was wet. It was like going into an alternate universe. How can there be a torrential downpour, and 5 seconds away, dry streets, no rain and nothing to show it had just rained?

I turned on AM radio and got a local station. For the next 20 minutes, I listened to caller after caller describe just what I saw. It was pretty bizarre.

The ICE facility in Aurora is a private GEO facility. On one side are ICE detainees. In a separate area, it has contracted with the U.S. Marshals to hold federal detainees in criminal cases who are denied bond -- having nothing to do with immigration status. Anyone can get assigned there, it's a space issue, not a citizenship issue. The nice thing about the federal side of the facility is that you can call your detained client on the telephone. They will put you on hold and go get him. That's pretty unheard of for jails, in my experience.

So when I got home, I got to call my client and tell him why I was a no-show. Otherwise I would have felt bad all night that he must have thought I stood him up. Of course, he already knew all about the tornado since they were in the middle of it, but he appreciated the call.

I hope I never see another tornado, but at least if I do, I won't blow it off as being a fire.

Anyone else have any weather stories? Tornado or otherwise?

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  • Display: Sort:
    Thanks (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by lentinel on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 03:22:04 AM EST
    for the first hand vivid account.

    Glad you're OK.

    Wow! (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by Mr Natural on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 08:18:42 AM EST
    ... seconded

    Category F'ing Hell (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by Dadler on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 09:03:56 AM EST
    Glad you're safe. And though some folks would rather see a tornado coming than feel an earthquake happening, speaking for myself as a native SoCal boy, earthquakes are downright comforting compared to the mere thought of being in a twister. Now...time to keep tending my still sh*tty lower spine. Cuz if I had to evacuate in case of ANY natural disaster, right now I couldn't outrun a legless sofa.

    I agree... (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by kdog on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 09:44:44 AM EST
    twisters are the scariest natural disasters...I'd probably rank tsunamis second.  

    I'm glad we only have to worry about hurricanes in the NE, and Sandy excluded it's usually not much of a worry at all, a relatively natural-disaster free area...but climate change might have something to say about that, the future will tell.


    Hmmm (none / 0) (#13)
    by CaptHowdy on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 09:55:00 AM EST
    Having lived extensively in both tornado and earthquake alley I think I have to disagree.   Tornados are very selective being hit by one is like winning the lottery in reverse.  And even if you are hit by one there are more or less safe places.
    Tornado don't really scare me.  Unlike the rest of my family who all runn to the nearest basement or such every time it thunders.  I do not.  
    I experienced quakes entirely differently.  Maybe because I was born and raised in tornado alley but in my first quake everything I ever learned about what I was SUPPOSED to do flew right the window and I became a little rabbit who just wanted to run someplace.
    My brain is not wired for the ground to move.
    I prefer tornados.

    Yes (none / 0) (#14)
    by squeaky on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 10:04:34 AM EST
    And I would think Tsunamis are very bad news...  Hard to imagine what would happen to Manhattan, LI, and NJ shore if a 100 foot tall wave hit the east coast.

    and then there is the 1720 foot tsunami record that has yet to be topped..



    I grew up with the ground moving (none / 0) (#15)
    by Dadler on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 10:11:32 AM EST
    The sky never did sh*t. Hardly ever rained.

    Probably the difference right there (none / 0) (#17)
    by CaptHowdy on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 10:13:31 AM EST
    I do remember the weather.  I would sometimes call in sick to work if rain was predicted.

    Although that smog in the sky... (none / 0) (#18)
    by Dadler on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 10:20:55 AM EST
    ...ruined my lungs pretty well.

    Amazing (none / 0) (#1)
    by CaptHowdy on Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 08:50:02 PM EST
    I was in one tornado when I was a baby.  To young to remember.  Probably just as well supposedly my father threw me in a ditch an lay on top of me.

    After I wrote that (none / 0) (#16)
    by CaptHowdy on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 10:12:17 AM EST
    I remembered that I was sort of in one.  Possibly a microburst.  And I mostly missed it because I was in a theater seeing the first Star Wars movie.  Suddenly everything goes dark, we hear an ungodly crash and the emergency lights come on.
    We exit the theater to see all the windows in front have been blown out.  No one was hurt as I remember.  Just window and tree damage.

    Wow (none / 0) (#2)
    by squeaky on Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 09:08:06 PM EST
    Glad you made it out to tell the tale...  Hope I miss out on experiencing one in my lifetime..

    You should have... (none / 0) (#3)
    by desertswine on Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 09:25:05 PM EST
    thrown a lasso around it and rode it till you tamed it.  You know, like Pecos Bill.

    Wow (none / 0) (#4)
    by jimakaPPJ on Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 09:54:03 PM EST
    Years ago I was going around 470 going home from DIA. The weather had been stormy but not a bad flight in. I stopped at the last toll booth before I25 to pay the toll. The lady in the booth was acting strange. She kept waving her arms. Finally bent forward screamed "Tornado!. I looked up and to my right there was a funnel cloud. I watched it jump the road and go through an apartment construction area off Parker Rd (I think.

    Then it just disappeared. Strange and deadly.

    That sort of weather phenomenon .. (none / 0) (#5)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Mon Jul 28, 2014 at 10:38:38 PM EST
    Jeralyn: "How can there be a torrential downpour, and 5 seconds away, dry streets, no rain and nothing to show it had just rained?"

    ... is call a microburst, and they're fairly common out here in the islands. Basically, it's a column of sinking air caused by an intense localized downdraft, and they're usually no more than a couple miles in diameter, tops. But microbursts also contain violent wind shears, and they can occasionally spawn tornadoes (or out here, waterspouts) as you experienced today.

    And microbursts always pose a direct threat to ascending or descending aircraft, even if there is no accompanying tornado. The technology that spots and tracks them was only recently developed in the past 25 years or so, in the wake of the 1985 crash of Delta Airlines 191 on approach to Dallas Ft. Worth Int'l Airport, which was caused by a microburst and killed 137 people.

    Glad to hear that you made it back to home base. It's always better to be safe than sorry, because you never want to get caught in the open during a violent storm like that.


    Microbursts Are Different From Mesoscale Storms (5.00 / 2) (#11)
    by Michael Masinter on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 09:06:40 AM EST
    Disclaimer -- I'm strictly an amateur meteorologist, with one formal college level course and forty uninterrupted years of continued interest and reading. With that said, I suspect yesterday's Colorado tornadoes are not likely associated with microbursts, but rather with supercell thunderstorms. Microbursts that produce heavy rain are common in the humid subtropics and tropics (e.g. south Florida and the gulf coast); dry microbursts are a feature of the desert southwest. Thunderstorms that produce microbursts don't rotate and don't generally spin up tornadoes; they produce sometimes damaging straight line winds, not tornadoes.  

    Tornadoes typically form in rotating thunderstorms, often called supercell thunderstorms, that commonly form in the great plains west to the front range. Northern hemisphere supercells often have a sharp line dividing clear skies from heavy rainfall, especially on the southern side.  

    The thunderstorm forecast for yesterday in Colorado was pretty accurate.

    Wikipedia has a pretty decent set of discussions of supercell storms and microbursts.


    Since you've studied the subject, ... (none / 0) (#20)
    by Donald from Hawaii on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 12:08:26 PM EST
    ... I must defer to your explanation, which sounds much more plausible.

    Very glad to read this... (none / 0) (#6)
    by unitron on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 02:00:54 AM EST
    ...'cause it means you're still around to write it.

    : - )

    I can remember driving from Chapel Hill to Durham one day back in the early '70s, and the rain stopped as soon as I crossed into Durham County and later it was right there waiting for me at the county line when I crossed back into Orange County.

    I was in one in Oklahoma City (none / 0) (#9)
    by ruffian on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 09:02:45 AM EST
    probably a month or so before the bombing. I was there for work for a couple of weeks and it was a Friday evening and I decided to go out to a local mall and hang out, get dinner. I only had vague directions (pre iphone days!) but headed that way....I could see storm clouds, and then all of a sudden it got super nasty, as Jeralyn described better than I can. Wind, hail rain, the whole thing. This was in the middle of the city, so billboards were bending and some signs coming detached. I turned around and hightailed it back to my hotel! Found out later a tornado had touched down real close to where I was.  

    I definitely never want to get closer than that.

    please stay on topic of weather (none / 0) (#21)
    by Jeralyn on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 05:36:52 PM EST
    thanks. You can discuss other things in open threads.

    Sorry (none / 0) (#22)
    by CaptHowdy on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 05:54:37 PM EST
    Thought it was open

    Xenia, OH then and Northeast PA now (none / 0) (#23)
    by Lora on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 09:24:30 PM EST
    I was 10 miles away from the Xenia tornado, part of the worst tornado outbreak in history at the time, April 3, 1974.  I had no idea a tornado was coming.  There was a monster hail storm -- baseball sized, I think -- and after it was over I remember running around outside excited, picking up the huge hailstones.  Then the sirens began wailing, all going south toward Xenia.  The destruction there was mindblowing.  I remember streets with houses that had their walls torn off and you could see inside, like looking into a doll's house.  Often the rooms were destroyed except for the bathrooms.  On some streets the houses were leveled.  Others, not touched.  Huge trees were snapped off 10 feet up as if with a giant pair of loppers.

    So, Northeast PA seems quiet, right?  Well, comparatively speaking, yes, definitely, although an EF-0 tornado touched down maybe 30 miles away from my house a mere three weeks ago during a violent storm.  The NWS did not identify any tornado in my immediate area but even here there were huge trees snapped off like the ones in Xenia, as well as many uprooted.  Every street in town had several healthy strong trees down.  There were houses and cars damaged as well.  My property luckily escaped damage.

    Forgot to say... (none / 0) (#24)
    by unitron on Wed Jul 30, 2014 at 08:29:41 AM EST
    ..."May it also be your last".

    video of Aurora tornado 7-28-14 (none / 0) (#25)
    by Lora on Wed Jul 30, 2014 at 10:54:43 PM EST
    Here is the link to a youtube video of the tornado.

    It does look more like a column of smoke than a tornado.  Looking at the clouds above it, where the column looks like it leads to, I can't distinguish any rotation there.  And that would be the main thing I would look for: rotation.  So I would probably not think it was a tornado either.