Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | May 13, 2010


It was a little after 4:00 in the afternoon thirty years ago today, and I was a graduate teaching assistant at Western Michigan University just finishing up my work for the day and looking forward to heading home to my wife of not quite three years.  The afternoon would shortly become one of the most memorable of my short 23-year life.  (Let me pause for a moment: Is it possible that it has been 30 years?)

I was in a classroom/auditorium building on Western’s east campus where my office was located, and I was the only one in the building, as was often the case toward the end of the work day.  Suddenly the heavens split at the seams and more rain fell from the sky and more wind blew across the landscape than I have ever seen in my life to that point.  I would experience nothing like it again until a very similar storm devastated my hometown last summer, closing it off to the world for several days.

But getting back to 1980. As the winds whipped and the torrents of rain slammed into my building, I ran around to several windows to see what on earth was going on.  I ended up at the main door, which had several windows in it, and looked out upon a sight that I will never forget.  The parking lot was flooded with several inches of rain as even more continued to stream from the sky.  My car was nearly lifting off the pavement under such tremendous force of wind that I was sure it would be swept off the parking lot and over the side of  the hill at any moment.

I was in such awe of these forces that it took me a little while to develop a concern for my own safety.  Finally, when I had the chance to think about it, I tried to determine the best place for me to be to ride this thing out.  I finally settled on the auditorium as it was at the center of the building and had no windows to the outside.  However, it was probably not the best place to be because it was the largest room in the building; if the roof collapsed, there was nothing between it and me except for the 2½-foot-high auditorium seats.  In any case, I was too agitated to stay in the auditorium for very long, and I went back out into the corridors quite quickly.

The storm came to an end shortly, but that was just the beginning of things.  I got into my car to head home, and I turned on the radio.  I quickly learned that a massive tornado had ripped through the heart of Kalamazoo beginning west of town and traveling for 11 miles to the very center of downtown.  In its wake, it left massive destruction and, unfortunately, death.  5 people lost their lives that day.  70 people were injured, and damages topped 50 million dollars.  I was perhaps 1/4-mile from its path.

When I arrived at home, I discovered that my wife had actually seen the tornado coming directly toward our apartment building as she was giving a piano lesson.  She and her student and one or two others took refuge in the lowest part of our outside stairwell—not a lot of protection, but better than taking your chances in a second-story student apartment.

It was a memorable day, and many people have personal stories to tell about their experience that day.  But life goes on, and we move along in our well-worn routines, day by day without a lot of thought given to most days, until we are again stopped dead in our tracks, momentarily at least, when the next major crises arrives.



  1. We’ve only encountered one major wind event in the years we’ve been married. It was certainly memorable. I’m relieved that, on this end of the state at least, tornadoes are the exception rather than the rule. Now, blizzards are another story altogether…. but you’re right. Random acts of nature often stand out among the bookmarks punctuating the history of our lives.

    Come to think of it, I’ll be heading down to Kazoo next week. Ummm, how many years did you say it’s been? :/

  2. I got a note from Bill Stephen (TV-8 weatherman) who mentioned that one of the most frequent comments he gets when he mentions this tornado is, “Wow, I wasn’t even born yet!”

    Yeah, I’m old alright.

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