Last night, a tornado touched down in Madison, twice, just a few blocks from our house.

Sarah and I started the evening downtown trying a new restaurant for an article I’m writing. As we were biking home, the tornado sirens started up. We took a peak at the sky, and decided to hurry home, rather than seek shelter at the University (through which we were riding at the time). Along the way, we saw numerous people standing on their front steps, staring off to the west where ominous clouds were looming.

Once we got home, we hurriedly got our bikes indoors, trotted the dog outside to pee, and turned on an AM radio station that was carrying weather coverage. There was a tornado warning issued for Dane County (Madison is in Dane County) and a huge supercell thunderstorm was heading for the city of Madison. Weather spotters were also reporting that the storm was dropping hail up to golf-ball size.

We stood in our front door for a few minutes, looking out at the heavy rain falling. Then, the rain started intermittently falling, there was a strange howling noise coming from the west, and the world got unnaturally still. At that point, I decided we needed to get into the basement, posthaste.

We gathered up the dog, a pair of flashlights, and some reading material (never know how long you’re going to be stuck in the basement), and we headed downstairs.

Once we got to the basement, we turned on a small radio that we keep down there. Reports were coming in about a tornado touching down on Madison’s South Side (several miles from us), a funnel cloud forming over the Westgate mall (not very far from us at all), as well as numerous trees being down just blocks from our house.

The storm was moving fast, about 50 mph. Once it had moved East of us, we came back upstairs and turned on the television to see if the local television stations had anything to add to the story. Now that the storm had passed and people were coming out of their basements, numerous reports of damage were flowing back to the government and the media. Since some of the worst damamge in Madison was not very far from our house, we decided to walk over to that area (Midvale and Tokay) and see with our own eyes the damage.

So, we leashed up the dog, grabbed some umbrellas, and headed out. Some of our neighbors were also heading over there, so we walked with them to the area. The whole walk over there, we could hear sirens tearing down Midvale towards the damaged area.

Once we got there, we could see the devastaion that the storm caused. Nearly every tree in the area had been damaged. The street was completely closed. Power lines were down. Gas lines had been ruptured. Roofs had been damaged. Garages had been moved off their foundations. The fire department was working hard to make sure everyone who lived in the area was okay and that those who were there examining the damage did not step on any downed power lines.

We talked to many people while we were there. One woman, in particular, was a kick. She told us about her special tornado hat that she keeps in the basement with her tornado survival supplies. Later, she told us that she would “give [her] right arm up to here for a cigarette.” I asked her if she smoked. “No, but there are times and places that just call for a cigarette,” she said. “This certainly is a time and a place,” I replied.

Another woman was there in her nightgown. When we initially arrived, she told us that the library had been damaged. I asked if a locally famous bakery located next to the library had been damaged, and she replied, “Thank God, no. I get soup from there every day.” As it turned out, the library did not appear to be “smashed.” News reports, however, indicated that the huge air conditioning units that used to be on the roof of the little strip mall that housed the bakery and library had been moved off the roof and into a parking lot next to the building by the winds.

Television channels covering the storm had footage of a funnel cloud forming over the Westgate Mall, which isn’t too far from our house. The most amazing part of the footage, however, was the people just walking around, right under the funnel cloud, in no particular hurry. Other people were filling their cars with gas at a gas station under the funnel cloud. They didn’t seem to give the funnel cloud the tiniest bit of thought. What were those people thinking?!?

Other people were completely oblivious to the weather. Numerous people stuck in traffic on Midvale Blvd. were leaning out their car windows and asking pedestrians why they couldn’t continue south on Midvale. Every single one was surprised to hear that a tornado had touched down and that the road was closed. Several even seemed to take the news personally (?!?).