I already had Monday, October 29, 2018 circled on my calendar. It had been for months. That was the day for me to cash in my birthday present from 5 months prior. Tickets to see Metallica in concert, 26 years after I saw them for the first time. No band I had seen since then has been as good live (and I saw a lot, working as an usher in an arena, but that's a story for another day).
I woke up at my normal time, a little after 7 AM. Before getting out of bed, I checked my email and hopped on social media to see if anything interesting was going on. It turns out there was! There were thunderstorms nearby and looking at the current radar, one may possibly hit me!
Now, if you couldn't tell by my username, I'm a weather junkie. I've always been fascinated by crazy weather. The more extreme, the better. Hurricanes are by far my favorite type of weather, mainly because they're so rare by me. (Gloria in 1985 was my first, followed by Bob in 1991, lots of teases since then, with a couple of tropical storms in 2011 & 2012.) After that are blizzards & any kind of good snowstorm. Thunderstorms are also up there but I never see any real good ones.
I've lived near the ocean for the majority of my life, Long Island Sound specifically. LIS does weird things for weather. In the winter, the ocean water is warmer than the air over the mainland and that warm air usually helps to keep snow amounts down. In the summer, the ocean is cooler than the surrounding air and that helps to remove instability, which translates into "no, or weak, thunderstorms". I'll watch storms on radar move over Connecticut & look like they're headed right for me. As soon as they get close, the marine influence destroys them. I'm usually lucky to hear a rumble or two of thunder.
Now that I'm on an island in the middle of the sound, surrounded by water, these negative influences are magnified.
As with anything, there are exceptions. If a snowstorm takes the right track & keeps me on the cold side of a storm, we can get a lot of snow. If a thunderstorm approaches me from the ocean rather than from land, the storms can hold together and pack a punch.
Back to that October morning. I headed downstairs to prepare to get my dogs up and feed them, it started to thunder a bit. Then it REALLY rained. I stood by my picture window watching the rain runoff roll down the street like a river. I wasn't about to take the dogs out in that, so I went back upstairs to lay in bed for a bit.
About 5 minutes later, my pager went off. There was a fire alarm activation at a home about a mile and half from me. Not a surprise, as I've learned in the past year as a volunteer firefighter, that any power disruption from a storm or anything else, tends to trigger fire alarms. I was already dressed, so off I went to the firehouse to respond.
While I was there waiting for another member to join me (we only roll the trucks with two or more people) ANOTHER call came over the radio for the same thing. That struck me as VERY odd, seeing as we average one fire call per week. To have two calls within five minutes of each other was strange, but nothing that made me be overly suspicious.
Someone else showed up and away we drove. We were responding to the first call, which was on the east end of the island, which is the private end. As we passed the gate house, the attendant stopped us to say that a neighbor of the home we were headed to had called down to say that her home had been hit by a tornado and that there were trees down everywhere.
As someone who has been following weather phenomenon for a long time, I knew that anytime people see tree damage from a thunderstorm, they almost always say they were hit by a tornado, when in reality, it was a downburst, microburst or just really strong winds. That doesn't make the storm any less destructive, it's just not as sexy as saying you were hit by a tornado. Tornados are rare, ESPECIALLY where we were. In my 40+ years, I don't ever recall a tornado hitting my part of Connecticut (southeastern), let alone Fishers Island. So needless to say, I was quite dubious, even after we arrived at the house and saw all the tree damage.
We quickly called off this call as a false alarm and tried to make it to the other home, which was also on the east end. The road I was going to take was blocked by downed trees. We tried to take a different road but that road was also blocked. Another member of the fire department was able to make it to the home and cleared that call as well.
However, it was obvious that we had been hit pretty hard by that storm. Once I returned the fire truck, I headed back to where the initial call came in to survey the damage on foot and take some pictures.
I had been in contact with a meteorologist from a Connecticut news station via Twitter. I let him know that there was significant damage on Fishers, but again, a tornado wasn't even a consideration at that point.
I began walking east, over the downed trees that made the road impassable for us in the fire truck. There was some other damage, including a wooden fence knocked over & a garage door blown off, but nothing too spectacular.
Then I noticed a very large tree uprooted and more trees down. At this point, all of the trees had fallen in the same direction, which again had me thinking that this was straight line wind damage. And then I began to look up, at the tops of the trees.
There, I could see just the tops of some trees damaged, while the rest of the tree was intact. That now had me considering the possibility of a tornado, as that damage was different than what I had seen earlier. (Again, I'm an untrained eye, just someone who was very excited.)
The road I was walking eventually comes out onto the main road that spans the island. I stayed on that road, headed east, when I ran into the utility company. There were wires down and a pole snapped. It was pretty remarkable and when I stopped to talk to the president of the utility company, he said it was worse farther up. We hopped in his truck and went to check it out.
Once I saw that damage, I was no longer firmly in the not-a-tornado camp. There was little doubt in my mind. There was a stand of trees that had been shredded completely. It looked exactly like footage from a midwestern town that had been hit by a tornado. There was a shed that had been destroyed and just so many trees down. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.
I tried to update my meteorologist friend, but cell service out there was spotty. I couldn't wait to fill him in. I knew he would be just as excited as I was.
The National Weather Service paid a visit to the island the following day and determined that we had in fact been struck by an EF-1 tornado. By that point, we all knew it, as a video capturing it had surfaced. Of course, I was in Albany for the concert, so I missed my chance to follow the NWS around while they checked out all the damage. However, I was happy to have been one of the first to realize what happened and grateful that I was on the island for it. My poor luck usually results in me missing something like this.
Oh yeah, Metallica kicked ass again. 🤘
Some tweets as they happened in real-time, followed by some of my damage photos.