Chapter Thirty-Two: The Tornado

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Monday 5 July 1999 - Low 63.7F, high 84.4F. Warm muggy night, still about 74F at 0400. I’d been awake on and off since about 0300, and had been aware of almost constant lightning flashes far to the north. About 0400 we began to hear some thunder. Soon the sky in all directions was being illuminated, and the thunder roar was almost constant. Suddenly the wind and rain came roaring down on us, blowing things all over the house and drenching our beds and everything between us and the north windows. The wind and rain was pretty well over within five minutes or so, but the flashing and roaring went on for some time more. It was the scariest electrical storm I’ve ever been in at camp, because of the speed and intensity, and not knowing how serious it would be. We heard later that the storm had swept through New Hampshire and Maine at a speed around 60mph.

It seems like there ought to be more to say about this event, but that was pretty much it. In fact, it was here so unexpectedly and over so quickly, that it was almost more a feeling than a happening. Maybe this photo can give some perspective:


It is about 15 feet from the windows to the close edge of this picture. When we're in bed, our heads would be another foot or two away from the windows. The windows are hinged at the top, swing up and attached to the ceiling when open, swing down and are held in place by nails when closed. (This particular photo shows a more substantial closing and locking apparatus - something we put in place after our storm!). The storm came from the north (where the moose is standing), hit the closed windows with such force that it popped the nails holding them down, pushed the panes up and out of the way, and still had enough force to soak everything up to our heads and a little ways beyond. Scary.

At first, that seemed to be pretty much the whole story, and it turned into a pretty normal day. I wrote in the journal:Besides everything being wet, we lost two trees that fell onto the upper garden. Lawn chairs, kettles, etc., left outside were blown some distance. Many flowers and vegetables were bent over, but there doesn’t seem to be much breakage. We walked out to the pad after breakfast to see if other trees had come down - none landed on the road, but there were lots of branches and bark stripped off trees by the wind.

During the storm, the temperature dropped over 10 degrees in 5 minutes or so, so even though it had been in the mid-70s all night, the overnight low was 63.7F. Precipitation was 0.43”. There were a few sprinkles after 0500, but then it cleared and was generally breezy. Humidity stayed high - 64% at 1200. As noted above, our high was only 84.4F, but all kinds of records were broken south of us - 94F in Portland, Maine.

We read and slept all afternoon, after hanging all our bedding outside to dry. Luckily, the sun and wind took care of them quite efficiently, even with the high humidity.

We heard more about our storm the next day:

Tuesday 6 July 1999 -Low temp. of 62.4F didn’t come until about 0900. High 77.7F. Rained all night, sometimes moderately, but no wind or electrical activity. Ppt. to 0800 was 0.38”. Stayed overcast, clouds laying on top of our hill late into the morning.

WMOU was off the air all day yesterday, so we didn’t hear much about the storm until this morning. In our area, it seems like most of the problems were close to the Androscoggin River, but they reportedly had 90mph winds near Colebrook, and it sounded like it was exciting up near Pittsburg, also. Several campers at Lake Umbagog were hurt when trees fell on their campers, and both Rte 16 and the Milan eastside road were closed for awhile by fallen trees. A large tree fell on a house in east Milan. A lot of Berlin was without power, but Gorham was apparently okay. A woman on Cates Hill called “Forum” and said that their anemometer registered a peak gust of 78mph.

Two days later, we learned more about what had happened close to us.

Thursday 8 July 1999 - Low 50.5F, high 64F. Showers overnight, distant lightning, some wind. Ppt. 0.29” to 0800. Showers on and off through early afternoon, gradually clearing. Lovely fall-feeling day. Only a few deer flies to spoil it.

After breakfast at about 1030, we followed Mike’s skid trails across our hillside and up to Faulkenham’s. Visited with all four of them for awhile, then came back via Dummer Hill Road. We got up the hill dry, sat out some showers on their front porch, got to A&B pad dry, then got showered on from there to camp.

Our cut is one big “fern field” now. Not far above the field, we found eleven blooming purple-fringed orchids. Also a big patch of mullein blooming up there.

We found more evidence of Monday’s storm as we went up through our cut. There is a large spruce just above the trees that were tipped over on the upper garden; it was shattered, not uprooted. Faulkenham’s suffered a direct hit. The cabins are okay, but a swathe of softwoods and a couple apples were shattered and/or uprooted just across the road from the big cabin. Right on the road edge three or four moderate-sized trees are shattered, and you can look into the woods beyond and clearly see the path the wind took.

* * *

Obviously, despite our local excitement, the storm (thankfully) had not hit us directly. It wasn't a tornado, really. They have occurred in the North Country, but rarely. I don't think I ever heard a formal explanation of what we experienced, but I assume it was a "microburst." As I understand them, microbursts are sudden downward thrusts of wind out of a thunderstorm. They can hit the ground at 60 miles per hour, and can be traveling over 100 miles per hour as they cut their way through forests, houses, or whatever else is in their paths. One that hit Easthampton, Massachusetts (not too far south of us) in October 2014 leveled a large enough area of trees to make the national news.

The Safest Place in a Microburst??

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