52 Weeks – #16 Storms – The 1989 Hamden Tornado

Monday, July 10, 1989, was just another summer day. After I finished my day teaching summer school, I picked up our daughter Caitlin from her grandmother’s house. Cait and I headed home, a 6 ½ minute ride. Once home, I noticed the wind was picking up and the sky was clouding over. It was about 3 p.m. and I wasn’t looking forward to entertaining Caitlin during the long afternoon hours. Being 8 months pregnant during the humid Connecticut summer definitely was an “energy-sucker.”
“Let’s go to Tommy K’s and get a video.” I called my mother just to let her know we were heading out for a while. To my surprise, she discouraged the idea. “The sky doesn’t look right. I think there’s going to be a bad storm.” Hamden is an interesting town weather-wise. It could rain at my mom’s but at our home, just a few minutes south, we could remain dry. I looked to the north. It did look a bit ominous. So, we stayed home. 
Within a few minutes, the wind picked up and the rain began. I didn’t know at the time, but the temperature had dropped 10 degrees in less than two hours. What was that noise? Hail was pelting our house. I ran upstairs to close the bedroom window. This required carefully balancing myself and my 8-month pregnant belly on top of our king-size waterbed. Not an easy task!
I looked out the window. The sky was an eerie green color. I had never seen anything like it. For some reason, I felt we shouldn’t be near the windows. “Cait, come sit on the stairs with me. We’ll read some books.” 4 ½-year-old Caitlin was happy to oblige. The two of us spent the next 15 minutes or so reading while all hell was breaking loose around us. Then it got quiet.
I opened the kitchen door and looked outside. The slide from Caitlin’s swing set, twisted and mangled, was jammed into the two-foot space between our bushes. “I think something happened here.”

Backyard after the tornado. You can see the mangled swing set in the back corner.

I couldn’t resist including this photo. The phone cracks me up!
Cait is a little too fashionable in comparison to the condition of the yard and her very pregnant (and barefoot) mom!

I turned on the TV. The news was reporting a bad storm quickly moving south through our area. And something about wind shear. Power was out down our street, but our house, which is on a corner was connected to the power on the main road. Unlike our neighbors, we still had power and phone service. Trees were down throughout our area and many roads were closed. I called Scott at the local bar. (No cell phone in those days!)   “Stay there.” It would be the only time he ever heard those words! “You probably won’t be able to get around the roads for a while.”

Something indeed had happened. A very rare occurrence, only happening once before in Connecticut.[1] It would be weeks before the National Weather Service officially declared the “heavy thunderstorm” to be an F4 tornado.

We were lucky.  Besides the swing set, our only damage was a cracked window. A few weeks earlier, Scott had decided to spend a small fortune having the diseased tree in our front yard removed. At the time I questioned the need. There was no questioning the wisdom of that decision now. Had that tree been still standing, it likely would have crashed down on our house.

I can’t even imagine what might have happened if this huge tree was still standing on the day of the tornado.

Despite living in our home for over 3 years, we barely knew the people living on our street. The morning after the tornado we shared our freshly made coffee along with tales from the day before. With the sound of chainsaws in the background (a sound we would hear for days to come) we finally met our neighbors.

Above and below: The Aftermath
Granted, this storm may not seem like much to those living in “Tornado Alley,” but for those of us who had never experienced a tornado, it was pretty frightening. Even though it’s been nearly 30 years, I watch the sky more closely during summer storms, hoping never to see that greenish cast again.

For more information on the Hamden Tornado see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1989_Northeastern_United_States_tornado_outbreak



This is the 16th post for Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge. This year I am focusing on chronicling my own generation.

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