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Taking heed, helping out

When I was growing up, I had my own outdoor thermometer and a gauge to determine barometric pressure, and I would spend summers logging hourly readings of both.

I would regularly check out books on anything weather-related, and I still get fascinated by what happens outside, even when storms approach.

On the one hand, I want to be out in the middle of it and feel what it’s like when the rain falls, the thunder and lightning flashes in the sky, and the winds swirl around me. The winds just before a summer storm are a favorite.

That said, my better half knows better than to put myself in any kind of danger. So when Shake, Rattle and Roll ended early last Saturday due to a forecast of severe weather later in the day, I understood why — not just to get the well-manicured cars out of the upcoming rain, but to allow people time to get home.

My own family made it through the storm fine. My daughter fell asleep on the way home from Shake, Rattle and Roll, and I stayed with her in the car for another hour after getting to our apartment — my wife and I chatting with new neighbors.

Seeing the dark clouds moving in, and more importantly, a tornado warning buzzing on my phone, I raced to get a sleepy girl out of the car, and into bed, and I went inside and intently watched radar and the forecasted track of the storm. My area was fortunate, and no tornado materialized.

But that wasn’t the case in the downtown area of Suffolk heading from the Nansemond River next to the Hilton Garden Inn, to River View, East Constance Road and to areas off of Wilroy Road and into the Hollywood neighborhood.

Businesses and homes in those areas bore the brunt of the EF-1 tornado that whipped through, spreading itself 200 yards wide and moving about two miles before dissipating.

As the staff here got out and talked to affected residents and businesses, we could see the resiliency, compassion and great efforts of neighbor helping neighbor.

And, while I was out speaking with neighbors, in a few cases over the din of chainsaws, I was awestruck by the seemingly random ways in which the twister twirled through these neighborhoods.

I talked with one resident on Myrtle Avenue who had a tree in his yard snap. He never heard it in the cacophony of the storm, but he could see it afterward. Unlike residents near him, his tree didn’t land on his house, but he realized it could have.

Others were thankful not to be home, or at work, when the tornado hit in those places.

And while no one wants to experience property damage and losing things meaningful to them, all were thankful they were around to share their story and not having to discuss injuries or deaths. Miraculously, in both the more damaging EF-3 tornado in 2008 and this one last Saturday, there was no loss of life.

We’re also fortunate that the city, the American Red Cross, Dominion Power and many others were out quickly to assess the damage and put needed protocols into place.

But I still heard from people who said they didn’t take the tornado warning seriously until the tornado was on top of them. I can understand that up to a point. We get a lot of warnings for storms throughout the year that either don’t materialize, or aren’t as severe as the warning might have indicated. Still, it’s better to heed it, even at an inconvenience, instead of ignoring it and putting yourself or your family in a potentially perilous situation. For all the improvements in weather forecasting, some things are harder to predict at ground level. In a potentially severe weather situation, as the cliché goes, it is better to be safe than sorry.

As everyone I talked to realized, it doesn’t take much to understand that the tree that fell one way could have easily fallen in a different direction and could have had a more catastrophic impact.

And for as much of a weather geek as I am, unless someone invents a weather-proof bubble in which I can see, feel and experience the power of a storm safely, or can put me in a real-time simulator, I’ll keep an eye on it from a safer place.