The Good Old Days: Rain

I love rainy days; especially weather watching for storms. I get so excited checking weather reports and the radar; technology that we have today versus the good old days. Though Alexa and Weather Underground do make mistakes. But even back then, everyone loves a rainy day…. napping, reading, playing a game or spending time with your own vehicles of nostalgia though for many that may be on our computers, phones and visiting social network sites.

Just the other day there was a morning rain storm and for many in the area, electricity was lost for hours. Today’s people could not survive with the loss of power during a rain storm and unfortunately attics are not made for snuggling. Right before the storm really began, I took my usual, summer morning walk and loved watching the clouds formulate while the raindrops slowly fell and it felt beautiful. The winds picked up as soon as I reached the house.

At the elementary school I work, grades kindergarten – second, no one…no one… liked to get rained on. We would always have extra umbrellas available if we were escorting a student from a car or bus. One of my jobs was to help manage kindergarten recess and generally it was outside. The kindergarten classes would eat lunch first and then all 100+ students would head out one door to the playground. I would open that door, always checking the grounds first before releasing them.  One spring day, the air was heavy, a little cloudy but none of the other recess supervisors had rain indicators on their phones saying that rain was on the way. Our phones did not lie about weather alerts today, but I was hesitant when I opened the door.Well, we let them go and they were all out less than ten minutes, when there was no thunder, lightening…. but pouring rain. I blew the whistle to have them line up early and I was shocked how well they managed. Some screamed but for the most part, they didn’t run slamming into the one door we always used that entered the building. They lined up in their five class lines, facing one of the other supervisors and the wall of the building, who always stood there. As I passed the lines to open the door and let, them in, some were actually holding their hands out, smiling, looking up at the sky as the rain continued, quietly stamping the puddles already forming, but each line gracefully walked into the building.

Some had spring jackets on and they didn’t complain after hanging their coats and heading into their classrooms. Some did ask if they could change their shoes since they had an extra pair of tennis shoes for P.E. The main office had video cameras and watched them come in; hoping there would not be a mob and there wasn’t. Those adults viewing the cameras were surprised at the smiles of fun on their faces.

Oh, boy how good their bare feet would have felt in the rain that poured most of the afternoon….just like the good old days.

Fifty one years ago: The horrific Illinois tornadoes

For me, it was in the late afternoon after school and I was playing outside at a friends. We were planning our weekend and the weather had been beautiful for April with high temperatures in the 70’s.

It was a time of no cell phones or computers on April 21st, 1967. But Father called from the front porch after getting home from work early, that I needed to get home. Strange, it was not dinner time when the usual call from Mom went out.  My own home was about a half a block west from where I had been playing and I was shocked as I glanced at the western sky.

I suddenly noticed that the trees, the birds were quiet for April and the sky was a heavy gray, tinged with a smudge of green.  Like the massive snowstorm months before, Chicago’s weather was about to change.  Something in my heart told me that the call to home was not a good one and I raced to the front porch, my Dad sat in his chair.

He loved storms and that was his spot regardless of the severity but this time he told me and Mother, who was standing inside the front door, that we needed to be in the basement immediately. At no other time in my short life, do I remember that command. Mom and I headed for the basement, me first but Mom kept trying to get him to come in as she stood on the basement stairs, scared.

The first tornado, better known as the Belvidere tornado, struck approximately at a little before 4 pm where the Chrysler plant near 1-90 witnessed the destruction of over 400 cars. Then, the destruction continued to the town of Belvidere where hundreds of homes were damaged but it was just at the time that school was getting out and buses were being loaded at the high school.

Elementary students were already on the buses but over 1,200 high students were dismissed and tried to get back into the building. According to sources, twelve buses were rolled over and students were flung like leaves into the field. Thirteen of the 24 fatalities and 300 of the 500 injuries in this tornado occurred at the high school.

At 5:03, Lake Zurich and surrounding suburbs felt the effects of their own tornado where over 75 homes were completely destroyed. Moving rapidly with no warning as had been described by many residents that there was no noticeable roar until upon them. It ripped through Seth Paine Elementary School, tearing down thick brick walls but leaving clocks showing 5:05 pm.  Many people were caught in their autos as they were returning home from work.

But it was the Oaklawn tornado that was on its way to my neighborhood in Calumet Park and according to meteorologists, the worst storm of the day. According to sources, at 5:15 an off duty Weather Bureau employee saw a rotating cloud mass over his house in Romeoville. Windows were blow out at a restaurant at at McCarthy Road and 127th and an observer at the Little Red School House at 99th and Willow Springs Road saw a funnel.

The tornado touched down just east of 88th Avenue between 105th and 106th Streets at 5:24 pM, 24 minutes after the tornado warning was issued for Cook County.  But it continued hitting homes and crossed the Tri-State Tollway, hitting a drive-in movie near Chicago Ridge finally moving to the heart of Oak Lawn. It was here that many homes were leveled. It was here that one of my parents best friend was paralyzed.

As we later learned, Tony was sitting in traffic at the intersection of 95th Street and Southwest Highway where a light pole smashed into the top of his car crushing him as he was heading to pick up his daughter at the Oaklawn Roller Rink. The greatest total of life took place there. Between 25 and 40 automobiles, halted at this intersection for a traffic light, were thrown in all directions, some carried northeast at least a block and set down on the Oak Lawn athletic field.

The Oak Lawn Roller Rink was completely destroyed but his daughter had left early and was safe from the destruction. Four were killed at the rink.  Fortunately, as the tornado passed over the Dan Ryan Expressway and headed our way, it began to dissipate causing lighter damage to vegetation, roofs and garages. According to sources, it finally moved offshore as a waterspout at Rainbow Beach, where we swam as kids.

My father summoned us out of the basement as he had watched the storm pass over from the front porch. Though the clouds were high then, he knew the damage west had been serious. It was the next morning he received the call about one of his closest friends in critical condition.

At least 10 tornadoes raked northeast Illinois, three of which were violent, F4 tornadoes. In the wake of the twisters, 58 were dead, more than 1000 were injured, and there was nearly half a billion in damage costs.