When Jordan was six, he wrote his first original song titled, ‘A Tornado is Bad News,’ inspired by his experience as a Munchkin in a community production of The Wizard of Oz. The lyrics – ‘A tornado is bad news. It can blow your house down. Those cyclones are fierce indeed. Spiral winds, Spiral winds. Woosh, woosh, woosh; Woosh, woosh, woosh. A tornado is bad news. It can blow your house down. Oh, my word, it’s coming, freak out with me. Bad news news, news; news, news, news.’ It’s a catchy tune when you hear it and has been in my head a lot recently. Back then and up until this week, big Wizard of Oz-like tornados seemed far removed – something that affected other areas of the country. The past five days have shown all of us in our township and the surrounding areas how major weather events can happen anywhere, and sometimes, right in your own backyard.
Last Wednesday, September 1, was the first day of school and the boys’ senior year at Upper Dublin High School. Finally, after 18 months, Jordan and Ryan were both going to be out of the house all day. I don’t know who was more excited – the boys or me. It was a half day for juniors and seniors so the freshman and sophomores could have time to themselves in the school (many of the sophomores who had remained virtual last year would be in the building for the first time).
I took the boys’ annual first day of school picture at 10:00, and shortly after that, they were on their way. Jordan wanted to drive – he spent a good part of the summer practicing driving so he’d be confident going places on his own once school started. He was ready (thanks to Dan’s teaching), but the forecast that afternoon called for storms – the remnants of Hurricane Ida. We were a little nervous having him drive alone, especially since he had an after-school activity that would coincide with the timing of the storm, so Dan ended up taking him.
After school, I emerged from my basement office to see how their days went. Jordan said it was amazing being back in a classroom, and he was looking forward to a full day on Thursday. I peered outside for a minute at the dark sky and then went back to work. I was so busy, I forgot about the impending storm for a while, until I heard Dan and the boys in the main basement area close to 5:30. Dan said a tornado warning had been issued for our area until 6:00. While we always go to the basement when we hear these warnings, we’re never overly concerned anything will happen. We sat there watching the time, and right before 6, the power went out. We lose power frequently during storms and figured it would be back shortly. Dan expressed concern about our sump pump overflowing and went to check – we were dry at that point.
(A little background on our basement – it’s divided into three areas: an unfinished part we call the dark room, that holds the HVAC unit, a sump pump, humidifier, our trash until we can put it out on garbage days, and an assortment of old boxes, TVs, and luggage; the main area we created as a playroom when the boys were little, which is now just a place to hang out; and my office.)
Without internet or cell service, e-mails and texts were spotty, but we did get a message after a few hours saying schools were cancelled the next day. A few hours later, Dan checked the basement; the sump pump had overflowed, and the dark room was soaked. There wasn’t much we could do, except worry about the rest of the basement being affected the longer we were without power. In the middle of the night, I woke up very warm from the lack of AC and went to the basement, where it’s cooler, to try and sleep. I was greeted with water – everywhere. Half of the playroom area and the entire office were soaked, and I quickly grabbed my cords and computer.
The next morning, I decided to take the boys to my parents’ house. Since we couldn’t get online, we had no idea the extent of what had happened outside of our development until we began driving. It was surreal – and has been described by others as akin to a war zone. We were rerouted multiple times as we encountered huge trees in the middle of roads, down power lines, and debris everywhere; cars were backed up for miles. It took an hour to get from Ambler to Willow Grove, normally a 12-minute drive. We were unable to get texts to go through during most of that time; we’d soon find out a 125-foot cell phone tower in Upper Dublin had fallen.
Once we arrived at my parents’ house (where Jordan remarked as I turned into their development, “Wow, look at all the trees standing here. It’s like nothing happened.”), our feeds were flooded with updates on all of the damage in the Upper Dublin community. It would later be confirmed by the media that an EF-2 tornado with 130 mph winds touched down from the Fort Washington area of Upper Dublin Township to Horsham, PA, which is just minutes from our house, resulting in (and these are just some examples):
- Roofs blown off homes. Entire houses destroyed; others majorly damaged and later deemed unsafe to live.
- Trees snapped and completely or partially toppled into yards, on top of houses and cars, into streets, and other public areas
- The roof torn off the township building which houses the police department; the police quickly relocated operations.
- Significant water and roof damage to one of our elementary schools and to the boys’ high school, including the roof over the indoor pool, now gone. The high school stadium, tennis courts and fields very much damaged.
- Temple Ambler campus – extensive damage
- And the saddest news – one woman killed when a tree fell on her home. (This was just in our immediate township – two others died from the same tornado in nearby townships due to flooding)
Seven tornados were later confirmed to have touched down in total in PA and New Jersey, and I know New York was hit badly by the flooding, as well.
Dan, the boys and I spent the next three days staying with various family members. (a big thank you to all of them for their incredible hospitality!) We drove back and forth to our house quite a bit during that time to clean out the fridge, get clothes, and bring things to the boys. Each drive took a while, as crews were cleaning up the trees and debris. We couldn’t get over the changes to our community while driving street by street, slowly making our way home. Once beautiful tree lined streets had been replaced by empty space in many areas. It was and still is extremely heartbreaking to see all these homes ripped apart and know so many lives have been affected. Our hearts and prayers go out to those families (including several friends) impacted. And I know there are more people affected across the country, especially in Louisiana. My description of the devastation does not come close to doing it justice – if you haven’t seen the news, you can search for Upper Dublin tornado to see photos of what we’ve seen in person.
We consider ourselves very lucky to have our development and home intact and frankly, to be alive. If the tornado had touched down just a few blocks over, we’d be in a very different situation. At the same time, we are sad and mourning the destruction of our community.
The first responders were incredible and have worked tirelessly for days. They weren’t just from this area – they came from other states and even Canada. It’s also amazing how individuals and businesses in our community have come together to help those affected through clean up, shelter, donations (food, clothing, personal items), and financial support. Like so many of our neighbors, we want to help and be part of the rebuilding. I image it will take a long time.
Our power returned after three days, and the water restoration company was here a good part of yesterday, pulling out walls and starting the basement drying process. It’s going to be several months before we have that space put back together, but again, considering what others are going through, this is a minor inconvenience.
Schools are closed at least through this week, with a full timeline for the reopening being shared tomorrow; the boys will have virtual classes Thursday and Friday. From what we’ve read so far, the storm damaged the air handlers on the high school roof. The air handlers are important for air circulation, as they bring fresh air into the school. Water penetrated the building when the air handlers were damaged. The high school is being temporarily ventilated and crews are hard at work doing what they can so the school can safely open. Jordan said at least he got his one half-day in person. It’s more than he’s had in the past 18 months. Ryan, who always wants to know what is going to happen and when, has been very patient and flexible throughout this week. We’re really proud of him for that.
Dan commented in a recent Facebook post, “I dare anyone to challenge the validity of climate change given the crazy weather events experienced” – and he meant not just here, but around the world. These weather events are no joke. I can tell you that going forward, we’ll certainly take tornado warning a lot more seriously. As six-year-old Jordan wrote, ‘A tornado is bad news.’
Looking ahead to the Jewish New Year tonight, may 5782 be a year of rebuilding, hope, peace, good health and happiness for all.
(note: The photo used on my page is a stock photo, not a photo of the actual damage to Upper Dublin.)