That Doesn’t Happen Here

The sky the morning after the storm was bright blue with charming white clouds, now harmless, arranged across the sky like teeth in the grin of a psychopath post-knife plunge. A gang of red, black and grey squirrels emerged from their safe havens and skittered along branches of damaged trees, pulling together new nests. They make it look easy.

The tornado warning came over my phone around 4:15 EDT, Friday, September 21st. It was tracking south and west, skirting the city. My mistake was I believed the Environment Canada report, as though nature could be predicted and corralled like a well-trained German shepherd.

The wind whipped walls of black clouds together, bent trees, tossed unanchored small objects into the air like a maniacal juggler. Better get the dog out for his walk now, I thought. It was a brief foray. Some sense arrived in my head as I watched the clouds gather like a mob. We scurried home, the small 13 lb. dog dragged at the end of his leash before we could launch like Toto and Dorothy. The rain began as we ran up the front  porch steps at 4:40.

I had dinner plans with a friend for 6:30. By 6:00 the worst of the wind and rain appeared over. I hadn’t listened to the news or turned on the radio and so in ignorance I got into my car and drove. The CBC World at Six radio news lead story was on the Trans Mountain pipeline. No mention of a tornado in Ottawa other than politics, as usual. I drove on.

The traffic lights in my neighbourhood were working and cars moved normally, until I turned onto the Airport Parkway, the road leading downtown. That’s when the sky dropped Olympic swimming pools of water over my car repeatedly and the road turned into a river. The wipers flipped uselessly back and forth across the windshield. I scanned for the roadside to pull over but saw nothing through the deluge.

I slowed to 25 kilometers per hour and turned off the radio because I couldn’t hear anything over the thumping of water on the roof of the car. I passed under bridges taking a breath under each at the one second of respite from the bombardment before the car was engulfed again. I hung on to the steering wheel, leaned forward, felt the tires under me push the car on, and watched for oncoming headlights to keep me to the right side of the road.

Every traffic light for the next 10 kilometers was out. Still, I pressed on. Dinner and my friend beckoned.

I know what you’re thinking: dumb, right? Experience, my trusted teacher, had not prepared me for this event. I over-rode common sense in my excitement to spend time with my good friend. Besides, this is Ottawa, capital of the Great White North, I said to myself. Tornados don’t happen here. Ice storms, yes. Fifty centimeters of snow in 24 hours, for sure. Gooey thunderstorms toasted on forks of lightening – absolutely. Killer tornadoes? Nah.

There was no dinner to be had. I met my friend in dusky Hintonburg. Not a light flickered in any windows anywhere within 10 kilometers. We abandoned our plan and headed home.

By then the rain had stopped but the wind persisted. It rearranged the sky and decorated the western horizon in shades of orange, lavender, grey and pink – a 1960’s psychedelic mess. A monarch butterfly blew by, tipping and tilting in the wind. Ah, another senseless creature like me foolishly challenging nature to a duel. In a field to my left silent Canada geese, their necks tucked in, hunkered down.

As I drove, I listened to reports on the radio to the destruction in the west end of the city: flattened homes, businesses, and displaced families. The tornado had jumped the Ottawa River and ripped through the wilderness of vast Gatineau Park, overturned cars on the north-south highway between Ontario and Quebec, and proceeded through west Quebec where it destroyed more homes and neighbourhoods. Lives twisted into chaos in seconds. I blinked at the radio in disbelief. This doesn’t happen here.

When I arrived home at 7:20 the power was out. We fumbled in lowering light for candles and flashlights.

The next morning while we made coffee on a camp stove, secure under an intact roof, we listened to the transistor radio and CBC reporters interviewing now homeless families. We heard that the city’s power grid took a hit worse than the ice storm of 1997. The inundation I drove through the night before was the tail end of a tornado that struck a power station a few kilometers away.

Experience, my trusted teacher, taught a new lesson for Ottawans and west-Quebeckers on September 21st. Tornados happen here.

Image result for Ottawa tornado photos

Photo credit: CTV News Ottawa

47 thoughts on “That Doesn’t Happen Here

  1. Thank goodness you were safe. Living in a hurricane belt we watch the weather reports very closely – sometimes Pretty overreacts when she bends the arc toward safety, but so far the house still stands.
    I have been in a car in sudden torrential rains, and I know how you felt. Scary. You were very lucky, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m really glad to hear you came through the last hurricane with the house still standing. We watched the news in horror.

      The weather misadventure here taught me many lessons and not the least is pay attention to the tornado warnings and take them seriously.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, I am so sorry! It is terribly frightening to be in a car with the weather getting worse and worse until you feel as if you are going to leave this earth right then and there and no option on what to do next, caught. I had no idea this had happened to y’all, and I’m so glad to read you are okay. Tornadoes, I hate them!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Environment Canada reported today that SIX tornados hit our region, one just a few blocks away from where I was driving. Egad. No more venturing out in foul weather w/out listening to the radio first.


  3. ….and even though my common sense was telling me that if you weren’t okay, you wouldn’t have been able to write and publish this post, your highly descriptive writing had me feeling tense from start to finish!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. If you can’t work this up as a scene in your novel (you know the one I’m talking about!), I shall have to fly up there and badger you in person until you do! On a marginally less emphatic note, you’re damn lucky you didn’t get washed away while driving. I’d really hate not to read your future work.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent descriptive writing. Here in Michigan we know about tornadoes, though so far I’ve been lucky and the only one that got really close lifted up before it got to our house (Bonnie the dog and I were hiding in the basement). Glad you made it through with only emotional scars.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I like the first paragraph (that psychopath… whaaat? Made me shiver), and the outcome for you personally, but not the happenings. Tornadoes in Canada sound to me like tornadoes in Tuscany. I’ll watch out. I’m really glad you’re here to tell the tale. ❤

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  7. I don’t live all that far from you, in upstate New York, near Vermont, but I had no idea this happened! Tornadoes are absolutely terrifying and one of the reasons I’ve always been smug about living up here–we don’t get tornadoes either . . . . something new to worry about. I’m so sorry for the people who felt the fury of this storm and am SO glad you came out of it okay!

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  8. What a harrowing experience. I’m glad you lived to tell the tale. We human beings are great at believing it won’t happen to us. The phenomenon here is the amount of folk lined up on the beach to watch the possible tsunami come in. One day it will! The climate has changed and we need to be a little more prepared says she who doesn’t have her earthquake pack ready yet……..

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  9. It’s a relief to hear from everyone I know in the Ottawa area and to know they are ok. This was a harrowing tale, Susanne, and in your usual fashion, you told it so well. Only in hindsight can you appreciate how lucky you were.

    … and now for all those who must start to rebuild their lives 😕

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Wow. Some experience. Another example of unusual weather? Of course, according to some (orange infant over your border included) climate change isn’t happening


    • I think it is unusual in the strength and severity. In the 39 years I’ve lived in Ottawa we’ve had occasional small tornados and miscellaneous warnings from time to time. But I’d say in the last 8-10 years it is routine to have tornado warnings from May to October. This is the first time in this area that we’ve had several (3 touched down) hit in populated areas and cause widespread destruction. Ya, I’d agree. climate change is the issue.


  11. I did this same trek not long ago to meet a friend. My car nearly flooded out by the deep puddles. I felt all these same feelings- I know Better! Why am i doing this!? Ha ha. Great story and imagery and now I’m not alone in the lessons in idiotic ventures to keep commitments 🙂

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