Oh, hail

Well, last night turned into an interesting one.

It started a little before 7 p.m. We had just finished supper. Phoebe was entertaining Kates and I by leading us in singing the ABCs while she played with her refrigerator magnets.

I was debating whether I should mow the lawn. The sky was darkening, but my take on the weather radar was that the storm would miss us to the north.

Before I could get out, though, some menacing clouds started swirling above our house. The sky was so captivating, we actually stepped onto our deck for a minute to observe. The clouds appeared so low that you could almost reach up and touch them. And they were moving at a furious pace.

Interestingly, there were never reports of anything more than a severe thunderstorm. And the sirens never sounded across town. But, boy, did this storm tear through the city.

Not long after we stepped back inside, the hail started falling. Dime-sized. And it just. kept. coming. I’ve never known a hail storm to last so long. Piles measuring a few inches high started forming on parts of our deck. ... This video hardly does it justice.

Amid all of the commotion and noise from the storm, Phoebe was rightfully scared. We told her the hail was like ice cubes falling from the sky. The answer satisfied her, and she’ll be repeating that to anyone who asks her about this storm for days to come.

Eventually the power went out. While the hail continued. The wind whipped at speeds of 70 to 80 mph, according to most estimates. We watched not only our huge oak trees sway violently, but our basketball hoop, too. … A lot of people today said the storm felt closer to a hurricane than a tornado.

At one point, I even made a valiant effort and successfully rescued the umbrella for Phoebe's sandbox. The wind had pulled it straight from its base and blew it into the middle of our yard, where it rolled around for a few minutes. Then it suddenly shot back toward our back door, allowing me to quickly reach out and snatch it up. 

When it was over, the sky took on an eerie orange. All of our neighbors started appearing in their front yards  to survey the damage. And my phone started lighting up with phone calls and text messages in reference to the damage sustained at the university.

On our street, the road, driveways and lawns were plastered with leaves. Large limbs were everywhere. A couple trees had snapped. One home’s siding had been ripped off.

Fortunately, the extent of damage was minimal at our house. We lost a board from our wood fence and a couple large tree limbs. The hail also punched a few holes through the screen on a garage window.

But in the west, the sky was darkening again. Lightning was flashing, and another round was on its way. For some it wasn’t as severe as the first round; for others, it was worse.

Here's what the radar looked like ...

Our power came back on around 9:30. Phoebe and Kates were already in bed, while I stayed up to keep up with the weather reports and with what was happening at the university. … The storm had punched out several windows in the residence halls, and the 350 or so students on campus were moved to a central building for safety. The storm had knocked out the power on campus, too, along with our computer server, so we spent the night communicating and providing updates to students on social media. Novel! ... In the meantime, those of us on the emergency team maintained communication with texting.

At 12:30 a.m., I finally went to bed.

* * *
And today, the cleanup began.

As I drove to work this morning I got my first look at the destruction, and later I walked the campus with a colleague. There were tree limbs all over the grounds, of course. But it was more heart-breaking to see the broken windows and shingles ripped from the administration building. The beautiful flower gardens throughout the campus had been shredded. Some metal sheeting had been torn from the performing arts center. And, oddest of all, a perfect circle had been torn through the university flag.

Across town, windows were broken. Siding looked as though it had been shot up with machine guns. Downed power lines and trees plugged roadways. On the outskirts of town, barns were destroyed and crops were ruined. One colleague said he hadn’t seen destruction so bad during his 55 years of living in the region.

I was supposed to be enjoying a vacation day today. Instead I was in the office this morning, fielding media calls about the storm and doing whatever else I could to help. Then, I came home early this afternoon and spent the rest of it cleaning up our yard. I filled six trash bags and two full-sized trash cans with leaves, branches and debris -- and that’s just from our front yard.

The chainsaws could be heard all over town this afternoon. There are homes still without power.

But it was also said repeatedly today -- thinking back to the images from the aftermath of the Joplin tornado and what that city went through -- it could have been a lot worse.

Here are a few more pictures … 

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