It was always after school….generally around 3 o’clock when it would begin. That was the most exciting. The determination whether to play with my best friend inside or out. When it began, the soft lights were lit inside our 1960’s neighborhood homes that brought comfort and clarity. Sometimes it would happen on the way to our ballet lesson in South Shore on a Tuesday….we worked hard on those days, occasionally glancing at the long windows to see what was happening outside before Mom would pick us up.
I loved late afternoon rain storms with thunder and lightening. Somehow, they would inspire and energize me. I always wanted to be a storm watcher but job and family got in the way. So I would watch from home. Watching them form were the best of times, even though we had watches and warnings through the years, you never knew the end result before Doppler.
I remember watching the green, overcast sky of the Oaklawn tornado approaching on April 21, 1967 though when sent to the basement for that one, excitement was quickly exchanged for fear, forecasting destruction and the loss of lives. Storms, then, took on a different meaning.
When my children were toddlers, they, too, were taught to love storms. I had two neighbors who would be knocking on the patio doors; pointing to the sky and telling me it was time during the spring and summer months. We would watch the impending doom together, watering our flowers just in case, while the kids could care less and played outside. And it was the month of August I remember offering significant tornadoes in the surrounding suburbs of Downers Grove.
On the afternoon of Tuesday, August 28, 1990 we heard the reports that something was happening further south. We sat on our deck and tried to watch the changing sky though we seemed pretty safe among the warnings of a tornado. It was an F5 tornado; the only F5 Chicago had ever seen. The National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm for the entire Northern Illinois area from 1:30 to 8:00 pm. A bad storm had formed just south of Rockford. We watched, waited and we were safe.
The tornado struck Plainfield, Illinois, around 3:28 p.m. Around 3:30 p.m. the tornado directly struck the Plainfield High School, killing three people. After an alarm was pulled by a dean in the main office, the volleyball players preparing for a game in the gymnasium rushed to the nearest door and took shelter in the hallway. It is reported that as soon as the last football player was pulled through the door from an outside practice, a coach quickly closed it, only for it to be immediately destroyed by the wind. The gymnasium proceeded to fall apart and crash down filling the gap in the doorway. They took shelter in the same hallway as the football team, and once the tornado had passed, that was the only hallway left standing in the building.
The tornado crossed Route 59 and ripped into St. Mary Immaculate Church and school, claiming an additional 3 lives, including the principal of the school, a music teacher, and the son of the cook at the rectory. Fifty-five homes were destroyed in Plainfield itself, a few of which were swept away.
The storm then worked its way southeast towards the large city of Joliet, damaging homes in the Crystal Lawns, Lily Cache and Warwick subdivisions and killing five more people. Sixty-nine homes were destroyed in Crystal Lawns, 75 homes were destroyed in Peerless Estates, 55 homes were destroyed in Lily Cache, and 50 homes were destroyed in Warwick. Moving on to the Crest Hill, Il where it caused F3 damage and claimed another eight lives. After reaching Joliet, the tornado began to lose strength and finally passed the Indiana border at about 4:30 when it had dissipated.
Another storm took place on August 15, 1993 in the late afternoon and my children were home. My husband was playing golf in Lemont. My neighbor and I once again were watering flowers, my garden more luxurious than ever before. But this time the sky was a smokey color with a slight green tinge and nothing was moving which immediately scared us. Something was too close and we heard a sound like a nearby train. I have never heard that sound since. We ran, gathering the children and headed inside. The power went out as we waited. There were no cell phones to check on others. There was a crashing sound; not far from the neighborhood.
As is turned out about an hour later, as the lights came on, the TV and my husband walked in the door, some sort of tornado/wind calamity damaged a store under construction in Woodridge about a mile away and the tornado did pass the golf course. They had no time to find shelter and laid flat on a low point in the grass. The tornado was an F2 and did finally touch down in New Lenox but no serious damage or injuries were reported.
My daughter was only a baby in 1990 but in 1993 she remembered, to this day, the shaking hands of her Dad. Today, my adult daughter and son sends me text messages, Nexrad and pictures of the sky ahead of time to give me warning that the forecast will be bleak.
And I am eagerly ready!