Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | May 13, 2008


It happened 28 years ago today. I remember it well. It is probably the single biggest weather event with which I have had firsthand experience in my life—followed in second place by the straight-line, might-as-well-have-been-a-hurricane windstorm that hit the Grand Haven/Spring Lake, Michigan area in May of 1998.

Kalamazoo Tornado

It was the spring of 1980, and I was a student at Western Michigan University finishing my Masters work. I was holed up in what at the time was the Oakland Recital Hall on WMU’s east campus. As the tornado ripped a deadly swath through town, I was squirreled away about a quarter mile from what would be its devastating path. I remember the intense winds, and the unbelievable amount of rain that fell in a very short period.

The parking lot outside my building had about a four-inch curb along its perimeter and the water during the most intense part of the storm was near the top of the curb—the lot looked like a shallow swimming pool with a surface that resembled a storm-tossed sea. My car was moving back and forth with such force that I thought it would surely be blown down the hill at any moment. Like a fool (hey, I was a college student at the time), I took refuge in the auditorium itself, thinking that it was the innermost part of the building so it would be the safest place to be. Of course, it was by far the largest room, and probably the worst place to be—almost as bad as being under a window.

Within a very short time after the tornado passed, perhaps a half hour or so, the sun was out and I was in my car and headed home. It was only in my car that I learned what had happened when I tuned into local radio. When I arrived at home (Western’s married housing), my wife of less than three years (now 31 years) told me that she saw the tornado approach, coming directly toward our apartment. She and some others sought refuge in the lowest area of the stairwell leading to the lowest level apartment (our apartment was on the second floor).

Within the next few days, we saw a good amount of the devastation firsthand. A portion of the roof of our church had fallen in on the church secretary’s desk just after she had left the room. A street sign was blown into the building and came to rest near the church pulpit. Downtown Kalamazoo looked like Beirut in the 1980’s—literally. The landmark Gilmore’s department store had one entire side of the building blown away.

What an amazing thing it was to live through this incredible storm. The 28th anniversary brings back some fascinating memories from my youth—an increasingly distant time in my life.



  1. You always seem to find the tornado’s. Remember the Minneapolis one?
    I remember this happening. Poor Gilmore’s.

    Didn’t you call Mom and tell her you and Marlene were ok? It seems like we didn’t hear about it until you did call and she wanted to know you said you were ok.

    Oh well, somebody has to have some excitement in their life, it may as well be you.

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