"Oh My God – This Is Real – This Is Happening!!!" Tales From a Tornado Touchdown

“A tornado is on the ground in DuPage County…”

The calm before the storm

A destroyed landscape in our backyard with massive trees snapped and shattered. Others with similar landscapes; still others with homes in unlivable conditions. 

It looks like what you’ve seen on the news, but it’s surreal when it’s out the window of your own home or down the street. That’s what happens when an EF3, 600-yard wide tornado with 140 MPH winds visits your neighborhood.

Sunday, June 20, was a relaxing Father’s Day. My two children and I had taken their Dad out for Father’s Day and when dinner was finished, my 17-year-old son left to go to work at Top Golf for the evening. My husband and 20-year-old daughter and I headed home. 

The predicted heavy storms did not come that day. By about 9:45 PM when I was about ready to watch the news, I remarked to my husband that the predicted bad weather never came through, and that we were likely safe from it at that point. It’s not uncommon for this scenario to play out – our area missing bad weather – and since we’d recently spent lots of time prettying up our yard, I was grateful there weren’t branches blown around or anything knocked over out there.

We let our dog out briefly in the yard, and then he lay on the patio steps as he enjoys doing. I saw distant lightning and told him it was time to come in. Because at that time, I was thinking that distant lightning – although beautiful – was the most I had to be concerned about for my family’s safety.

Sitting down to watch the 10 PM news, I soon began to see familiar meteorologists showing a screen that was blowing up with storms and violent weather not far away to our west. It was still quiet where we were. At 10:30 PM, I called my son – who was working at the Naperville Top Golf far west from us and asked if they would keep employees there when his shift ended at 11 until after the storms passed through. I told him not to drive anywhere without checking in with us. 

At 10:45, we were watching the intensity of the weather conditions develop. This time I texted my son because my call would not go through – he said the employees were in a storage room to wait out the weather.

By 11 PM, it was clear something was going to happen and it wasn’t like anything else we’d ever seen. Our dog had been restless the whole night, and I’d wondered why but now I began to feel in my gut that he knew something was going to happen deep in his senses.

We told our daughter who was upstairs doing homework for a college class to come down to the basement. She was surprised as she was doing her work and didn’t really notice anything.

Then the phone weather service alarms went off on all of our phones. Sirens were going off. 

Just before this, my husband had briefly opened our French door to the backyard. Noticed it was slightly breezy – a little lightning.

Then, suddenly the wind picked up immensely in a way he’d never seen – and we’ve seen some pretty significant windstorms after living here for 20 years. I was upstairs telling my daughter something wicked was coming, and he shouted to both of us to get downstairs to the basement – I grabbed something from my bedroom – and then I saw and heard something so weird, so not what I thought a tornado might be like but again my gut knew something was very, very wrong.

The windows were all shut but the sudden sound of wind screaming through any open areas was chilling. And I sensed this intense vibration – it was in that moment when I realized “Oh my God – this is real – this is happening!”

We all scrambled to grab our dog and cat and got into the basement.

We have furnishings down there, but it is largely unfinished. Our furnace and the air conditioner are nearby and we had a television on, so there was a lot of noise in the basement. By the time we heard Brant Miller tell us the tornado was east of 355 – which was not very long after we got down there – my husband ventured up. 

“All of the trees – gone.” Those were the first words out of his mouth.

Our beautiful oak tree, destroyed.

It was hard to believe. The lovely view I’d had the sunny evening before – decimated. 

Our son was able to leave work eventually, but when he got near home, he couldn’t drive down our street as a massive, beautiful tree down the street was a victim of the storm, its massive size blocking off the entire end of the street.

He had to park on the nearby road and walk through the damage to get home – but he was safe.

I took many pictures of our home and yard over the years. Instead of being overly sad looking at them now, I cherish the time I had when things looked as they did. I am so glad I have so many pictures of what it looked like.

I do admit to feeling hurt, sad, resentful and even crying a bit here and there – as when the remains of our oak tree were sawed down – it felt like watching a friend get cut in half.

The view to the west of our silver maple pre-tornado.

The memories of the trees – every year watching the leaves unfurl each spring, showing us the promise of new life ahead, the lovely shade they provided throughout the yard in the summer, their beautiful colors and leaves in the fall, their majestic structures leafless in the winter. Destroyed.

More memories of experiences in our yard keep rushing back. The days of being home with my little ones and doing projects, playing sports and having friends and family over on that shady patio for coffee, dinner, drinks and fires. The parties for Halloween, graduation, or any gathering – tear into my heart now as I think of it all. 

The backyard is a barren hotbox out there now.

The huge silver maple, likely more than 50 years old, decimated and taken down, leaving an open, gaping hole in our yard.

We are still in the midst of cleaning up the mess. Many fared much worse, but as my good friend reminded me, you can be grateful for what you have but still grieve what you have lost.

And the people – neighbors, friends, and even strangers and an entire Scout Troop came to help in droves – they just showed up and started with chain saws to remove the destroyed remnants of our trees, pulled the debris to the curb, offered kind words, sympathy, hugs, flowers, muffins and cookies.

We haven’t been able to connect with our insurance adjustor due to rainfall this week and next, but hope to meet with him soon. We hope to be able to fully re-side the house, replace the roof, and get a new fence. We hope to be able to find ways to get shade in the yard, set up new patio furniture and plant some new trees.

The serene path next to the house, last fall, early morning with lovely autumn colors.

We don’t know what insurance will cover, and with one child in college and another going there soon, we don’t have a lot of funds left over for much of anything else. If insurance is not generous, we may have quite a mess for years to come, or a mismatched house with different siding or only a partially repaired roof or fence. I have heard that insurance is not as generous with these things as it used to be. Time will tell. 

Before all of this happened, I planned to write a post about enjoying what one has. Our home is pleasant but not spectacular – a colonial with a nice but relatively modest backyard compared to some of the extraordinary houses in our general area. We tried to make it pretty by keeping up the grass, trimming our bushes and trees and planting flowers of all kinds all around the house.

The path this week, never to look quite the same.

Our home is alongside a public walkway near a grade school and the field adjacent to the school and our home is a large, open, public park with other homes around it. Again, ours wasn’t a really fancy yard, but people loved it, apparently, as did I. 

In the past week, more than once, I have seen people taking pictures of our damaged property and starting to cry. 

I hope that we are able to, before long, create a new beautiful space to welcome family, friends and neighbors – and give folks we don’t even know an enjoyable place to walk by.

It will not be the same, but I hope it will be lovely.

I am impatient – but will need to learn patience. Seems like we waited so long for things to be “normal” again with all of Covid-19 that this summer finally felt like we could live normally again. Not so. Not for a while, I suppose.

It’s in the hands of the adjustor, insurance, contractors and mostly God to bless us. 

It is up to me to live up to what I tell my children – who, at 17 and 20, are young adults now.

Look for beauty where you can find. Focus on that. See the goodness. Dwelling on the negative too long only makes one feel miserable, and it doesn’t change anything.

This event is now a story of this home, this family, this community. I pray for comfort, healing, repair and rejuvenation for all. Godspeed. 

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