When I was teaching, we used to have regular storm drills. In an effort to get my fifth and sixth graders to take the drills seriously, I used to tell all my classes about a vicious storm that passed through South Bend in the the spring of 1962. Here is my experience as a freshman at Adams High School during that storm.
It was an unseasonably warm spring day with not a hint of a breeze. My second to last class was PE, and we went outdoors for the first time since October. After working up a good sweat, we showered and headed to our final class of the day. Just before dismissal, Mr Litweiler, my biology teacher, warned us that unseasonably warm days with still winds can be a sign that violent weather is imminent.
The bell rang, and I headed for the algebra room to meet my nerdy friends in the chess club. As we started our first games, we noticed that clouds had rolled in along with wind and light rain. It hardly merited concern. Then, the winds picked up and the clouds became darker and darker until they were inky black. It was literally as dark as night. When the electricity went out, it became darker than night.
That’s when the teachers went into a panic. Waving flashlights wildly, three of them toddled down the hall. They’d take a few steps forward then spin around in a circle, flashlight beams lighting up the ceiling, then the floor then the lockers. ”Students should proceed to the basement in an orderly fashion,” they shouted. We watched them in amusement until they turned a corner. Nobody that I know of went to the basement.
Before long the sky lightened a bit, and I was able to find my way to the front doors of the building. I only lived a block from school so I figured I should be able to sprint through the storm and make it home without too much trouble. Just as I was getting ready to start my dash, one of the doors was wrenched open and a mud-covered figure dove into the school. The door slammed shut and the door diver rolled over on his back. ”Don’t do it!” he gasped. ”Don’t go outside.”
He explained that he tried to run home, but the storm was so strong he kept getting blown off his feet. To make matters worse, the wind was pelting him with globs of mud. The boy took refuge in an unlocked park car. He calculated his options – home two blocks, school 30 yards. He bolted for the school, pulled the door open with a mighty tug and dove inside.
As the boy went to bathroom to clean himself up, I watched the weather outside. Before too long the winds diminished allowing me to sprint home.
My wife, Bonnie, was a fifth grader at Jefferson School. She and a friend started walking home before the winds picked up. A neighbor offered them a ride, but they declined. When the wind increased to the point where it was hurling mud on them, they knocked on the door of the nearest house. A kind family took them inside, where they huddled in the basement with their rescuers. When Bonnie finally got home, she had the unpleasant experience of facing her mother, who was none too happy that she turned down a ride.
My students always listened attentively to the story of that long ago storm. When I finished, I asked them if they had any questions about my storm experience or the impending storm drill. Without exception, every class said the same thing. You married a fifth grader?!
Here are some books with storm tie-ins:
The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger
The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley
Rising Tide by John M. Barry
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
Mother of Storms by John Barnes
Low Pressure by Sandra Brown